Don’t get me wrong, my favorite art in the scope of art history is still Baroque (particularly architecture) and Neoclassicism (particularly paintings), but there is something about contemporary art that just hits different. Contemporary art is, after all, by definition more relevant to the context of the present, and at times the future. It tends to be more interactive, more thought provoking (at least in the sense that you will often question the boundaries of art).
And maybe because you’re less focused on the history and the larger than life impact of each work, you get to look at things at face value, never truly knowing whether you are looking at something that will be studied and admired for generations to come or something that will fade away into the museum archives.
Contemporary art museums are fun because they are predictably provocative. You can expect them to deliver on the unexpected, challenging what you know to be art and sometimes, when done well, what you know to be culture and society and identity. It may seem like a series of photo-ops, but beneath the surface level is consecrated (though often contested) value. And while many of the names are lesser known than the Van Goghs or Da Vincis or Rembrants of the world, their stories are probably more relevant to a museum-goer’s life experience and their impact more powerful to a museum-goer’s perspective. Not to mention the art, artists, mediums, themes, are more diverse.
Located right beside the Walt Disney Concert Hall in DTLA, The Broad is still comparatively new but has already established itself as a key player in the art museum scene. With a solid permanent collection and a facade made for Instagram, The Broad has also helped reinvigorate downtown Los Angeles to be an actual cool place to hang out.
Why we love it: it’s free, also it’s not too big, not too small
While tourists might flock to The Met and MoMA first, the Whitney is the mainstream art museum for the locals. Specializing in contemporary American art, the museum has a collection of over 24,000 works and rotating exhibitions, making for an institution worth visiting and revisiting to stay up to date with the art world of today.
Why we love it: you get great views of the city as an added bonus to the art
Make it a full day itinerary: Take your pick of Meatpacking District restaurants for brunch beforehand. Afterwards, walk the High Line and peruse Chelsea market.
Centre Pompidou is more than a museum. The hulking construction that deliberately clashes with the city surrounding houses the modern art museum, a library, music center, bookstore, theaters, restaurant and more. The museum itself has the biggest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe, but the real gem is the panoramic views of the city.
Why we love it: the building itself is worth a visit, also the views
Make it a full day itinerary: Go thrifting around the Marais and grab a falafel sandwich bigger than your face.
Serralves is a celebrated cultural institution in Portugal, hidden a distance away from the city center on sprawling estate grounds in Foz. The premier contemporary art museum of Portugal has both local and international artists, and the estate also houses an art deco villa, cinema and lush gardens with art scattered throughout.
Why we love it: the gardens extend the experience in a way that most city’s art museums don’t
Make it a full day itinerary: Walk around the park, catch a concert or an event, walk over to the beach and then take a trolley back into the city center.
While many flock to the Art Institute, or to the more popular museums in museum campus further south, the MCA is an oasis tucked right off the chaos of Michigan Ave. Since it was established in the 60s, it has evolved from a small scrappy art hall to a cultural institution in its own right, a common stop for any contemporary art exhibition touring the country.
Why we love it: it’s snack sized compared to other museums, and it’s never overly crowded
Make it a full day itinerary: Start your day with pastries at Hendrickx or brunch at 3 Arts Club, walk along the lake for some city views (weather permitting) to the museum or shop along Michigan Ave, and finish off by playing tourist and grabbing drinks at Signature Lounge.