One of the best ‘side effects’ of travelling is being able to visit the world’s most interesting and inspiring museums – and art museums and galleries, in particular, tend to regularly make our must-visit lists.
There are the blockbuster institutions of course, such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the British Museum in London, or the Louvre in Paris, which everyone has heard about and are obviously well worth multiple visits. And then there are the museums and galleries that stick with you long after you get home; and for many reasons that can include anything from the buildings themselves to a brilliantly curated exhibition or just a single, incredibly memorable work.
The three institutions we’ve picked out for this story fall into this category. Here’s why:
C/O Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Incredibly, Berlin has 175 museums – perhaps inevitable after being the city in which so much of the history of the 20th century played itself out, but a vast and intimidating number nonetheless. On the very aptly named Museum Island alone, four of the world’s top museums are situated, among them the breathtaking Neues Museum. But on a recent visit to the city, I was completely charmed by a much smaller and more contemporary institution: C/O Berlin.
Situated since 2014 in Amerika Haus, an elegant Mid-Century Modern building designed by German architect Bruno Grimmek and built in 1956-7, C/O Berlin is a charitable foundation focused on photography and visual media. The exhibition that was taking place while I was there was a brilliantly curated retrospective of the work of American photographer Irving Penn. Featuring a career’s worth of work ranging from Penn’s early portraits to his immensely beautiful still life photographs and work in fashion, this exhibition was completely unforgettable.
Each year, C/O Berlin presents up to 20 different exhibitions, and has hosted shows by internationally acclaimed photographers including Nan Goldin, Anton Corbijn and Peter Lindbergh. Currently on is an exhibition of Polaroid images by director, filmmaker and artist Wim Wenders as well as The Polaroid Project, which ‘explores the Polaroid phenomenon in all its diversity’.
ALSO READ: The ultimate guide to two days in Berlin
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
Ever since the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim opened in Bilbao in 1997, other cities have been striving to replicate ‘the Bilbao effect’, which refers to the way the building transformed this previously rather unremarkable provincial city into a top international tourist destination. With its titanium-clad exterior and soaring atrium, the sculptural building was instantly acclaimed as an icon of contemporary architecture – and experienced in person, it’s even more wondrous than you imagine it will be.
After spending most of my life thinking that my favourite building on earth was the Guggenheim New York, I seriously considered switching allegiance to the Guggenheim Bilbao halfway through my visit here a couple of years ago. And as the actual exhibition spaces inside the building here are far better regarded as spaces in which to show art, there are probably more than a few people who would agree with me.
Given the building’s oft-mentioned ‘sculptural’ qualities, it seems appropriate that the various public artworks situated around the outside of the Guggenheim Bilbao are highly memorable sculptures too. These include a towering Louise Bourgeois ‘Maman’ (1999) spider and the renowned, vegetation-clad ‘Puppy’ (1992) by Jeff Koons, around which throngs of visitors vie for the perfect selfie spot. And then there is the permanently exhibited Richard Serra sculptural work, ‘The Matter of Time’ (1994), inside, which pretty much defies description. Just go already.
Tate Britain, London, UK
Tate Modern might draw the crowds (about 5.66 million people visited the museum in 2017) but Tate Britain is, in many ways, an even better experience than its more popular ‘sibling’. Billing itself as ‘The home of British art from 1500 to the present day’, Tate Britain is where you’ll find the world’s finest collections of works by the legendary JMW Turner, and where fans of figurative painting will be spoiled for choice.
One of the greatest pleasures of Tate Britain is that the museum has something for almost everyone. This is the place to come to see work by artists as varied as Francis Bacon and David Hockney, as well as pieces by William Blake (yes, that William Blake), the pre-Raphaelites and Thomas Gainsborough.
First opened in 1897 on its present site, Tate Britain’s original buildings include a classical portico and dome, and acquired Grade II-listed status in 1970. The Clore Gallery (which houses the Turner collection) was added in the 1980s and is widely regarded as one of London’s most important postmodern buildings. Don’t miss the monumental – and gorgeous – Duveen Galleries, where you can always check out the museum’s latest sculpture commission, and an annual highlight is the always controversial Turner Prize exhibition.