The United States is home to hundreds of art museums, each with their own impressive collections. While it would be foolish to dismiss any of them, there are a certain few that stand out above the rest. Rankings, much like art, can be very subjective so when compiling this list we factored in size, popularity, and uniqueness. With that in mind, here are five of the best art museums in the United States:
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Established in 1876 to coincide with the country’s centennial celebration, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the oldest and largest museums in the United States. The museum moved to its current location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the late 1920s and regularly draws close to a million visitors annually. Its impressive collection spans two millennia and consists of 225,000 permanent pieces.
However, the museum may be most famous for what lies outside its walls. Dubbed the “Parthenon on the Parkway” because of its Greek-inspired architecture, the museum became world-famous after appearing in the 1976 blockbuster film Rocky. Every day thousands of visitors can be seen reenacting Rocky Balboa’s triumphant ascent up the gigantic staircase which leads to the museum’s main entrance.
de Young Museum
San Francisco, California
Originally opened in 1895, the de Young Museum in San Francisco was closed for over a decade following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The museum suffered significant damage in the quake and was subsequently demolished and rebuilt in 2005. The museum’s new location and unique architectural design have made it a favorite destination among tourists visiting the city in recent years.
Despite fears of what a recession might mean for a fledgling museum, the de Young has surpassed expectations each year since its re-opening. Nearly 2 million visitors flocked to the revamped institution in 2009. Inside visitors will find an extraordinary collection of American and international contemporary art as well as an impressive array of traveling exhibitions. The building’s exterior includes a twisting 140 ft. tower that can be seen rising above Golden Gate Park from many areas in the city.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the American Art Museum in Washington D.C. is the most important and comprehensive collection of American Art in the country. The museum shows off pieces from every movement and time period in the country’s illustrious history. Completely unique to the museum is the behind-the-scenes access granted to its visitors.
Inside the Lunder Conservation Center, guests can view Conservation staff firsthand as they treat and examine new works. Five state-of-the-art laboratories are completely accessible to museum-goers via floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Next door is the National Portrait Gallery which houses portraits from every significant figure in the history of the United States.
Art Institute of Chicago
Covering over 1 million square ft., the Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest art museum in the United States. The museum’s famous entrance is bookended by two huge bronze lions sculpted by Edward L. Kemeys. The Art Institute offers an ostensibly diverse collection with special emphasis on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The Institute encompasses over 5,000 years of human expression with 260,000 works on display.
It offers one of the most thorough Monet collections in the country with over 30 of his paintings permanently showcased. In May 2009, the museum opened its “Modern Wing” which houses a world-renowned collection of 20th and 21st Century art from around the world. The museum also features a unique Touch Gallery, which encourages visually-impaired visitors to experience pieces through the sense of touch rather than sight.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, New York
When it comes to sheer scope and size, it’s hard for any art museum to match the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Located in Manhattan on the edge of Central Park, the museum is nearly a quarter-mile long and covers over 2 million square feet. Its permanent collection features 2 million pieces spanning thousands of years. The Met displays works from classical antiquity and Ancient Egypt as well as an extensive collection of Asian, African, and Islamic art.
It’s also home to a catalogued collection of musical instruments, weapons, armor, and costumes from throughout human history. The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden is located roof-top on the southwest corner of the museum. It offers a café and bar overlooking Central Park and the Manhattan skyline and is a popular spot for museum-goers in the warm summer months.