America’s art museums rival the best institutions in the world.
You don’t have to travel to Europe to see breathtaking painting and sculpture. And right now, you can’t visit Europe even if you want to. So, as you think about where you’ll take your groups in the coming months, consider treating your art lovers to some of the best museums on this side of the Atlantic.
In cities around the country, your travelers can find artwork that will awe and inspire them. Some of these art museums offer free admission, and many have special tours and programming that will make them especially appealing to groups.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Possibly the most famous art museum in all of North America, the Metropolitan Museum of Art — or the Met, as it is popularly known — is legendary in the art world. Founded in 1870, this grand dame of New York museums now has two sites — the Met Fifth Avenue and the Met Cloisters — and a collection that spans more than 5,000 years of art from around the world.
The Met is perhaps most famous for its Egyptian art, which includes more than 26,000 objects from ancient Egypt. Among visitor favorites are mummies and an Egyptian temple that was reconstructed inside the exhibit. The museum’s American wing houses a collection of some 20,000 works by African American, Native American, Latin American and other American artists. At the Cloisters, groups will find beautiful garden spaces, as well as a collection of art and architecture from the Middle Ages.
Art Institute of Chicago
Visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago get to see some of history’s most famous artworks. Established in 1878, the museum is the cornerstone of Chicago’s cultural scene and features dozens of well-known paintings. Groups can find works such as Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait, “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, “The Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso, “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” and the larger-than-life “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.
The museum’s collection goes far beyond painting, however. Popular galleries focus on Native American, African and Japanese art. In 2009, the museum debuted the Modern Wing, a 264,000-square-foot space that houses its 20th- and 21st-century art, architecture, design and photography. The new wing also features two restaurants, a sculpture terrace and beautiful views of adjacent Millennium Park.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Even if you’ve never been there, you’ve likely seen the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Its grand stairway and exterior feature prominently in the film “Rocky,” and today thousands of visitors flock to the museum to re-create Rocky’s famous triumphal pose overlooking the city.
Even without this cinema cameo, though, the Philadelphia Museum of Art would be famous. Established for the nation’s Centennial Exhibition of 1876, the museum soon moved to its iconic home on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It houses an encyclopedic collection of more than 240,000 works. Departments are devoted to American art, contemporary art, costumes, decorative arts and Asian art. The museum also features a collection of Rodin sculptures, Chinese porcelain and famous paintings such as Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” Groups can arrange special tours that focus on particular themes in art and history.
J. Paul Getty Museum
There are breathtaking sights to behold both inside and outside the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Established by a wealthy philanthropist and art collector in 1997, the Getty Center campus sits on 110 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains and features the Getty Museum, as well as related research and conservation organizations. The Getty Museum offers free admission to more than 1.5 million visitors each year. It features more than 125,000 works of art, including European paintings, illuminated manuscripts, photography from around the world and sculpture from the 12th century to the present day.
Outside the museum, the Getty Center features 86 acres of landscaped gardens and terraces, including the Central Garden, which is a work of art in its own right. There are several museum stores on-site, and the campus features two restaurants, a café, and food and beverage carts.
High Museum of Art
One of the South’s most lauded art museums started as a private home. Established in 1905, the Atlanta Art Association found a permanent home when Mrs. Joseph High donated her family’s Peachtree Street residence to the organization. The renamed High Museum has grown significantly in the century since then, acquiring more than 17,000 works of art. In the 1980s, the museum moved into a 135,000-square-foot building designed by noted architect Richard Meier. A 2005 expansion brought three more buildings and doubled the museum’s square footage.
The museum’s collection is international in scope, featuring American, African and European art. Groups will find significant exhibitions of decorative art and design, as well as artwork by folk and self-taught artists from the American South. Modern art, contemporary art and photography galleries round out the visitor experience.
Since its founding in 1883, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has been the cornerstone of Indianapolis’ cultural life. The museum sits on a 152-acre campus that includes a park, gardens, performance areas and a historic home, as well as undisturbed wetlands and woodlands. In 2017, the entire complex was renamed Newfields: A Place for Nature and the Arts, but the museum remains its anchor attraction.
When they visit the museum, guests will find a collection of more than 54,000 works spanning 5,000 years of art history. Highlights include numerous neoimpressionist paintings, Rembrandt’s earliest-known self-portraits and Robert Indiana’s original “LOVE” sculpture. The museum staff offers overview tours for groups and can also arrange tours to fit specific art or historical interests. Tours of the garden, the Lilly House and the Art and Nature Park are also available.
National Gallery of Art
Many art museums begin as a private individual’s gift to a city. But the National Gallery of Art in Washington was one man’s gift to an entire nation. The gallery was created as a gift to the people of the United States by Andrew Mellon, a financier and art collector who served as secretary of the treasury from 1921 to 1932. Mellon donated his art collection and built the museum with his own funds. It opened in 1937. Today, it contains more than 150,000 paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, photographs, prints and drawings that span the history of Western art.
Thanks to Mellon’s gift, the museum is open to all visitors free of charge. The National Gallery has grown substantially since its inception, both in physical size and the size of its collection. An addition to the original gallery building, the East Building, was built in 1978 to house the gallery’s collection of modern and contemporary art.
Chrysler Museum of Art
The citizens of Norfolk, Virginia, founded the Norfolk Museum of Art and Sciences in 1933. The small institution got a giant transformation 38 years later when Walter Chrysler, heir to the Chrysler automobile fortune, donated his collection of more than 10,000 pieces of artwork to the museum. In honor of that gift, the institution was renamed the Chrysler Museum of Art. It offers free admission year-round.
Today, the Chrysler Museum collection features 30,000 objects and continues to grow. The works are spread among 50 galleries that highlight a variety of media, time periods and artistic styles. In 2011, the museum added its Perry Glass Studio, where visitors can watch glass artists create fanciful sculptures in a working hot shop. A renovation completed in 2014 expanded the museum’s gallery space and added numerous amenities for visitors.
NOTE: Before planning your visit, you should contact these museums directly for information on their opening hours and any restrictions that may be in effect.