Museums are amazing. They are often dismissed as dingy and dusty buildings filled with old stuff and way too many details. But they are so much more than that. They don't just chronicle our world. Museums present different perspectives, shed light on things that we might otherwise forget or overlook. They are carefully researched, curated, designed, to inspire learning. And oftentimes, they force us to confront the darker truths of the past to encourage understanding as we move toward the future.
Noble causes aside, I am so excited that museums are becoming cool again. Smart marketing and willingness to adapt and evolve with technology has gotten millennials flocking to museums. Even if it starts off with a selfie, I'd like to hope that everyone at least walks away with a little more knowledge and broadened perspectives. In honor of International Museum Day, here’s a roundup of some of my favorite museums.
“THE INSTA-FAMOUS ONE"
The Broad Museum is one of the only reasons I would willingly drive to DTLA. The contemporary art museum still charms as the (somewhat) new kid on the block to the burgeoning art scene in Los Angeles. In true LA style, it’s designed for instafamous millennials with everything from giant dining furniture to metal balloon sculptures to up your social media game. Not to mention the modern white building itself is photogenic as hell. It’s also the perfect size. Big enough to spend a couple hours perusing, but not overwhelming. It gives you enough time to explore downtown while you’re there (like walking to Grand Central Market for lunch). Oh, and like several other LA museums, it’s free. But make sure to reserve tickets well ahead, or be prepared to wait in a long line.
“THE UNDERRATED ONE"
Hammer Museum is an underrated gem. Located right on Wilshire in Westwood, the UCLA-affiliated art museum hosts a variety of exhibitions and events for the local art community. It’s definitely not as popular as LACMA or the Getty or Broad (maybe because it can be understandably mistaken as a museum about hammers?). I honestly first found out about it because I had to go for my Design | Media Arts class at UCLA. But it is definitely worth regular visits for the ever-changing exhibitions and programs for locals. Like Broad, admission is also free to everyone. And because LA, the café also serves all-day brunch on the weekends.
“THE CHILDHOOD FAVORITE"
I vividly remember going here as a child and staring up at Sue, the T-rex. It was one of the few museums I actually thought was cool at 7 years old (Art Institute was not so appealing to 7 year old me). The Field Museum is the natural history museum which, together with Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium, is located in the museum campus on the shore of Lake Michigan. The campus is still one of my favorite parts of Chicago, partially because of happy childhood memories, partially because there’s a killer view of the skyline. The permanent collections span a range of themes from animal dioramas to a hall of gems to "working laboratories." It’s the kind of place that inspires the curious child in all of us. Oh yeah, did I mention they host family sleepovers with the dinosaurs?
“THE CLASSIC ONE"
It’s a popular tourist attraction, but I love The Met despite the crowds. First of all, it’s beautiful. The architecture and the space is as luxurious as the art it houses. Even if you don't go inside, it's worth stopping by the building itself, especially if you're exploring Central Park. Like the Louvre, you could easily spend days exploring the encyclopedic sections. But somehow, the layout is more manageable than the Louvre. It’s the perfect place to explore over several visits for a few hours at a time. Also the perfect place to dress up and feel fancy (and maybe pretend you're at the Met Gala?)
“THE ONE I'D GO TO OVER THE LOUVRE"
Centre Pompidou is my favorite place in Paris. More specifically, the balcony on the 5th floor is my favorite place in Paris. Not only is it the second most aesthetically divergent building in the city (looking at you, Montparnasse), it has (IMO) the best view of Paris. Most tourists flock to the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, but let’s be real, the fun art comes after Impressionism. The building houses the biggest modern art museum in Europe, as well as a library, bookstore, restaurant, and exhibition space. It’s more than a museum, it’s a place where you can just hang out, whether inside the center to use their free wifi or out by Stravinsky fountain. And you should hang out around there, because it’s conveniently sandwiched by Les Halles and Le Marais so no matter which direction you wander, you’ll be in a cool neighborhood.
“THE ONE YOU'VE (PROBABLY) NEVER HEARD OF"
I hadn’t even heard of the Museum of Broken Relationships until I went to Zagreb. And we didn’t even decide to actually go until it started raining. But it is the only museum where I dutifully read every single placard. Essentially, it is a collection of items that represent broken relationships, donated by people from all around the world. Each item is accompanied by a placard. Sometimes the story is a few paragraphs of context. Other times it’s just a short quote. Some are heartbreaking, some are funny, and some are downright scary. But each one feels so raw and authentic and personal that it sticks in your mind. The disarmingly emotional museum paired with a quaint café and a gift shop full of sassy souvenirs makes it a perfect way to spend an afternoon in Zagreb (even if it isn't raining). There’s also a location in LA, but it just doesn’t have the same character...
“THE ONE WITH THE CABBAGE"
Unless you are really into ancient Chinese art, you probably haven’t heard of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Honestly, even if you have been to Taipei, you might not have ventured to the museum purely because it’s tucked away in the mountains and inconvenient to get to. That being said, it’s still one of the most popular attractions in Taipei and an obligatory stop for all tour groups. This museum has one of the biggest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world and is actually one of the most visited museums in the world. But tbh the best part is that the two most famous things at the museum are a jade cabbage and a stone stewed pork. Fitting, for a foodie city like Taipei.
Of course there are tons of other museums that deserve a shout out, but these are my current favorites. Do you make it a point to visit museums while traveling? Do you keep up with local exhibitions? Share your hit list in the comments below!
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