Let’s talk about art: where to marvel and what to see

Sitting in my bed as I type this, I’m looking to my right on my bedroom wall where there are two very different paintings: Degas’ Four Ballerinas circa 1899 and Hopper’s Nighthawks from 1942. French and American. Impressionist and Modern Realist. Performers and strangers. But hey, look at all those redheads. 

I found these two posters during my first week of classes last fall and remember dumping $20 on something I probably could have found a way to print myself, but I didn’t mind because I remember what it was like to see these artists for the first time, legitimately. 

While I have yet to see this particular piece of Hopper’s in person, I first remember falling in love with his work the same day I saw Degas’ in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. during my spring break of sophomore year. I adore museums, and through some strategic convincing, I got my parents to take me to the land of government and tourist food trucks to go see some.

I dabble in visual arts (nothing serious) and have always marveled at how ideas in the mind could translate to a technique of the hand–the patience; or if we’re talking abstract, maybe lack thereof. No matter what, a story is being told, and as a storyteller myself, I’m attracted to learning from others–artists. 

I love art museums because they normally put so many of these storytellers in one place, but what I love most about them is that they are one of the few places you could go alone without ever feeling alone. They are the best places to critically think and escape at the same time, and with a great soundtrack, a few hours in the afternoon can feel like a full day. A really good one at that. 

While my art gallery waltzes began in the spring of 2018, I had no idea I would be lucky enough to expand my palate tenfold in just two years. There is so much more I need to see, but these are my takeaway from some of my favorites:

National Gallery of Art (West Building) – Washington, D.C.

Mentioned earlier, this gallery is probably the beginning of my art-wandering obsession. The design of the building alone is what brings people in. It’s like a temple of art. Huge columns, grand hallways, and nice leather benches. 

The West Building of the gallery is dedicated to more classical works ranging from the 14th to late 19th century. It’s got a ton of religious art–if that’s your thing–and a lot of other themes that touch on American and European life and landscape.

National Gallery of Art (East Building) – Washington, D.C.

The other half of this gallery is dedicated to American modern art. If you start in the West Building, make your way to the underground floor and past the gift shop, you are transported through what seems like a space-like portal to the East Building.

With an entirely different look and feel compared to its sister museum, the contemporary and edgy design supports the 20th-century artists it champions. This is where I saw my first Hopper pictured below and some other famous artists like Warhol, O’Keefe, and Pollack. There’s always a unique exhibit on the ground floor, and on a nice sunny day, you can make your way to the rooftop to see the views of D.C. paired with a small sculpture garden. 

National Gallery – London, England

This gallery has a special place in my heart. When I lived in London for a semester, I found myself coming back to the National Gallery when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do on some days. Located in the heart of London in Trafalgar Square, it is one of my favorite places in the world to just be. 

Reminiscent of the National Gallery in the U.S., this museum is grand in its design and is split, in my terms, between really old biblical paintings that date back to what feels like the beginning of time and luscious European portraits and landscapes.

This museum allowed me to see some European artists I had never seen before. Rembrandt, Cézanne, Raphael, Michelangelo…the list goes on. But beyond the collections that exist inside, it’s the view from when leaving this gallery that is the most rewarding:

Perfectly symmetrical. Perfectly satisfying. 

Victoria & Albert Museum – London, England

Also explored during my time in London, the V&A is kind of a catch-all experience. It’s more than just an art gallery. The V&A recognizes design in all forms: fashion, photography, furniture, jewelry–there are really no limits. 

Walking in here feels like Wonderland. A giant Chihuly sculpture hangs from the rotunda and no space is wasted. Every corner of this place is stuffed with something cool and ornate. With collections dedicated to different regions from around the world and different mediums, I am confident I never got to make it through this entire museum once. There are simply not enough hours.

Another treat to this place is its courtyard. Right in the center of the complex, this courtyard is treated with a wading pool and fountain surrounded by small gardens and trees. I imagine if I ever make it back to London, I’ll have my picnics there.

Albertina – Vienna, Austria

Monet. Lots and lots of Monet. 

Timing my fall break trip to Vienna just right, my friends and I found ourselves at the Albertina in the middle of their Monet exhibit that included over 100 pieces of his work. I was overwhelmed, to say the least.

Beyond his collection, this museum included lots of modern pieces from various periods. Dozens of Picassos and a haunting Delvaux were just the beginning as the floors bled from impressionism to the abstract. Mostly familiar with French and Italian artists, it was here that I was able to find new names like Helnwein and Nolde.

It’s also where I found one of my new favorite artists, Alex Kantz. His 1960s flare and smooth color blocking were all that I needed–it also didn’t hurt that the painting I saw of his referenced one of my favorite movies, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

 

The Louvre – Paris, France

I’ll be quite honest, as much hype as this place gets, it’s nowhere near my favorite. Being the most popular art gallery in the world kind of takes the allure out of a personal day in a museum. It’s impressive but massive. The crowds are thick and loud. Oh, and everyone is out for one thing: Mona. 

Spending only two days in Paris, I made my trip to this museum short. With over 38,000 pieces and 12 hours of daylight in a world city, I probably skimmed over just a third of this museum. It’s worth a visit–it’s a bucket-list item–but it should not be designated as the only place to see amazing art. 

The Getty – Los Angeles, CA

If the V&A is Wonderland, the Getty is Oz. Spending some time in Los Angeles during my fall break this past semester, I knew I had to see this wonder of a collection. 

Arriving at this gallery is just one of the treats this gallery provides. Taking what feels like a Disney monorail up the side of the tall hills of L.A., it’s obvious that no dollar was wasted in creating this utopia. Once you reach the hillside, the white marble building contrasts the blue skies and the modern design is built with its surroundings in mind. 

The most incredible garden outlines the cubic architecture and every exit from each gallery allows walking outside on a balcony to take in views of the landscape. I wish I could say that the art inside is the most fascinating party of this museum, but it is truly the atmosphere and design of the building itself I found the most memorable.

Of course, the Manet exhibit was lovely, and the van Goghs were vibrant, but being outside in L.A.’s sunny weather created its own work of art. Visit here if you haven’t already. 

I’ve left out a handful of galleries I’ve visited, but these give a taste at just what these priceless places have to offer. A chance to explore, meditate, and marvel. Go out of your way to find something that gives you the chance to do all three. 

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