7 Best Modern Art Museums in the World

Hoping to enjoy some culture on your next trip, but tired of the same boring portraits and fading artwork?  Looking for something a bit bolder, more upbeat, and a little more exciting?

Modern art is your answer. Add one of the following cities to you travel agenda and experience the world-class experiences on offer.

Museum of Modern Art – New York, USA

MoMA

Affectionately called the “MoMa”, this space has been called the most influential museum of modern art in the world. Any one of the 2.5 million visitors that pass through the doors here every year will know that the museum’s collection covers nearly everything, from sculpture to illustrations to architecture. In fact, the holdings encompass over 150,000 pieces, not including thousands of films and millions of film stills. The museum itself was remodeled in 2004, a controversial but nonetheless stunning modernization of glass and granite.  

It’s normally $20 for admission, but they offer Free Friday Nights from 4pm to 8pm, sponsored by Target stores.

Tate Modern – London, United Kingdom

Tate Modern

Any list of the best modern art museums would be remiss without Europe’s most popular and prestigious art venue, the Tate Modern.  Resting on the banks of the Thames, this gigantic museum is a huge tourist attraction in London, not just because it is free, but because the exhibitions illustrate a number of different styles and media.

The rooms have vaulted ceilings and tons of space, so featured displays are given some breathing room; visitors can see them several angles, which isn’t always the case at other museums.

S.M.A.K. – Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst.  – Ghent, Belgium

SMAK

Most visitors to the tiny medieval villages of Ghent and Bruges in Belgium come for one of two things:  beer or chocolate. Few realize that Ghent is home to a virtually unknown modern art masterpiece, the S.M.A.K. Located in a leafy green park on the outskirts of the town, the museum is housed in a single building that was formerly a casino.

Visitors are confronted with artistic license even before entering the space – the front wall is covered with an array of somewhat disconcerting stone mannequin torsos. The rotating exhibits include both Belgian and international artists, reflecting the curators’ penchant for pieces that explode with color.

Stedelijk Museum – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Stedelijk

Amsterdam’s “City Museum” is experiencing a grand reopening, having moved from their temporary, edgy space near the central station back into their original home on the Museumplein.  It’s no surprise that the open and sometimes controversial stance on public issues here in the Netherlands filters through to the arts space – expect to be shocked or at times feel uncomfortable at the Stedelijk. 

The museum always has a number of excellent video presentations on at any time and makes good use of modern technology where needed.

Hamburger Kunsthalle – Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg

Stretching across several blocks, the Kunsthalle is several museums in one. The modern art museum is separate from the other buildings, connected by an underground passageway.

Never afraid to be controversial or provocative, the installations in the modern art area push the boundaries to the limit; frequent comments from travelers include such descriptors as ‘weird’, ‘creepy’, and ‘downright strange’. The space has lots of nooks and crannies, so visitors should be forewarned to take their time and explore every last bit.

Centre Georges Pompidou – Paris, France

Pompidou

This unusual structure in the center of Paris is inside out – by design. The architectural team ensured that the building itself was just as much of a conversation piece as the works inside.  The modern art collection includes not only art but furniture, photography, and “decorative arts” (interior design). 

But the Pompidou is such a great space for all types of modern art fans:  there are painters, buskers, and other artists on the grounds surrounding the museum, and the view from the top floors are some of the best in Paris.  

Museum of Contemporary Art – Sydney, Australia

Sydney

If visitors can drag themselves away from the beach long enough to get some indoor culture, the “MCA” is the place to be.  It is a relatively young museum, opened in 1991, but the space is a fantastic 1930s art deco building in the heart of Sydney’s commercial district.   Exhibitions often feature Australians and aboriginal artists, although works from all parts of the world are represented.  

The free guided tour is a great way to get acquainted with the large selection of work that’s out at any one time.



Additional photo credits: Stedelijk by Radio Nederlands on Flickr, MoMA by caspermoller on Flickr, Ghent by marijn on Flickr, Pompidou by proligde on Flickr

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Leave a Comment

  • Sue Gao said at 2012-02-02T13:39:20+0000: Pompidou, hope to c u not too long.

Older comments on 7 Best Modern Art Museums in the World

Traveller At Heart
04 February 2009

Excellent

AceTracer
21 April 2010

Reina Sofia?

Is the Orsay not modern enough for you?

Jennifer Lin
30 September 2010

Hmm…I live in Amsterdam and have to disagree about the Stedelijk. So far, it’s been disappointing. It sounds like you are talking about REALLY modern art, and not just post-renaissance art. If you include post-renaissance, I’d highly recommend the Paul Klee museum in Bern, the Louisiana museum outside Copenhagen, and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Hoge Veluwe National Park (outside Amsterdam). Also the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice. The Guggenheim in NYC often has great exhibitions and is worth seeing for the building alone. The Van Gogh in Amsterdam is also excellent. And the d’Orsay, as already mentioned in another post. I was also just reading about this place: http://www.japantravelinfo.com/modernart/m_naoshima.php. I’ve never been, but it sounds fantastic. One of the reasons I enjoyed the Louisiana and the Kröller-Müller Museum so much was the outdoor sculpture park setting. My favorite artist is probably Paul Klee, so that would give you some idea of the kind of art I really like. At the Klee museum, you can also pay a visit to his grave by the way.

Jennifer Lin
30 September 2010

p.s. maybe the Stedelijk will be better after it reopens, as they have just hired a new curator. She was formerly the curator at the LACMA in LA, which I really enjoyed the one time I was there.