Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Art Museum Road Trips

I am a road tripper. I have traveled all over the Western United States on numerous road trips. It’s a style of travel that I enjoy. It gets me to national and state parks as well as many historical sites. My other interest when I travel is art. Unfortunately many travelers only think of art museums when visiting the biggest cities. I know plenty of people who will visit national parks, but they only think about going to art museums when they are in cities like San Francisco, New York, London, etc. When you’re on the road, I think it is important to seek out art museums.

Most of my favorite “road trip” museums are smaller than big city museums. Many of them are located in smaller cities. I would never advise anyone to take a trip to Reno or Boise for the purpose of just going to the art museum. But, I would definitely say you don’t want to miss either museum if you find yourself in Reno or Boise These are both small city museums with solid regional collections. It’s an opportunity to see work by artists that often have been overlooked by big city museums. Smaller museums also get traveling shows that usually feature less well known and emerging artists. The big cities get the blockbusters, but some of the most interesting art I have seen has been in these far flung museums.

Sometimes these small cities are not that small. Many large cities are normally not thought of as destinations to visit art museums. Portland, Phoenix and El Paso all have solid art museums worth taking a look at. Many people pass through El Paso on their art pilgrimages to Marfa, Texas. Marfa is amazing, but it’s a shame more art lovers don’t spend a few hours in the El Paso Museum of Art. It’s also a striking architectural space in a converted Greyhound Bus Terminal.

Often the small museums are in small cities known for their wealthy retirees. Museums in places like Palm Springs, Palm Beach and Santa Barbara all have collections of big name art donated by wealthy local patrons. Because these museums usually only have one piece by a major artist, their collections are often overlooked when large traveling shows are curated. The collections in these smaller museums rarely find their way into art books as well. Santa Barbara has quite a few treasures of this kind, and you’re going to have visit if you want to see paintings like a fantastic George Belllows streetscape.

Finally, many of these small city museums are in cities that are near or even adjacent to bigger cities. Museums located in cities that are overshadowed by bigger cities are usually overlooked. Only the most determined by art travelers seek them out. Tacoma shares an airport with Seattle but few visitors to Seattle take the time to visit Tacoma’s two art museums. Sacramento and San Jose are cities with good art museums that are both overshadowed by San Francisco. And right across the Bay in Oakland is one of the West Coast’s best art museums. Many San Franciscans have never been, even thought it easier to reach the Oakland Museum on public transportation than many San Francisco museums. In Southern California one my very favorites is the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Already overshadowed by the bigger museums in Los Angeles, then when art lovers do trek to Pasadena they are more likely to seek out the better-known museums in Pasadena. Having visited all the museums in Pasadena, it’s the PMCA that has me returning and going out of my way when I am in Southern California.

Below is a list of the museums mentioned above with links to their websites:

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