merican art museums have earned a reputation as some of the most high-quality art institutions worldwide. It is a country of wonderfully unique diversity and the best art museums in the U.S. reflect that fact. While there are smaller art museums that focus on a specific period or style, the biggest art museums in America often contain notable examples of numerous artists, genres, and time periods, providing visitors with an all-encompassing experience of both American and internationally renowned artists. Whether you plan to visit the museums in person, or are just keen on learning more, we have made your search easier with our list of the top art museums in the U.S.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Best Art Museums in the U.S.
- 1.1 Museum of Fine Arts (1870) in Boston
- 1.2 The Art Institute of Chicago (1879) in Chicago
- 1.3 Walker Art Center (1879) in Minneapolis
- 1.4 Metropolitan Museum of Art (1880) in New York City
- 1.5 Milwaukee Art Museum (1888) in Milwaukee
- 1.6 High Museum of Art (1905) in Atlanta
- 1.7 Cleveland Museum of Art (1916) in Cleveland
- 1.8 Detroit Institute of Arts (1927) in Detroit
- 1.9 Philadelphia Museum of Art (1928) in Philadelphia
- 1.10 Smithsonian American Art Museum (1929) in Washington D.C.
- 1.11 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (1929) in New York City
- 1.12 The Whitney Museum of American Art (1930) in New York City
- 1.13 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1935) in San Francisco
- 1.14 National Gallery of Art (1937) in Washington D.C.
- 1.15 Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1965) in Los Angeles
- 1.16 Getty Center (1997) – Los Angeles
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
The Best Art Museums in the U.S.
Although many of the top art museums in the U.S. can be found in New York, there are a multitude of top-quality American art museums throughout this massive country. No matter what your preference in art, you have a seemingly endless choice of places to visit: from the small niche museums that focus on a single artist or style to the biggest art museums in America which proudly exhibit many of the most renowned masterpieces ever produced.
Museum of Fine Arts (1870) in Boston
|Architect||Guy Lowell (1870 – 1927)|
|Featured Artists||Georg Baselitz, Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, John Singer Sargent, and Mary Cassatt|
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was created in 1870, making it one of the country’s oldest museums. The museum was originally located in Copley Square, but in 1909 it relocated to its present position on Huntington Avenue.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is well-known for its magnificent array of works of art, as well as its collections of Asian, American, and ancient art. It also ranks as one of the biggest art museums in America. The Museum’s collection of nearly 22,000 European works spans 13 centuries and includes masterworks by some of history’s finest artists.
It’s collection includes sculptures and artworks such as metalwork, furniture, glass, ceramics, and architectural design elements, as well as fine art paintings on panels, canvases, copper, ivory, and in fresco. The Museum has an unrivaled collection of English porcelain and silver, as well as a variety of significant historical 18th-century French decorative artwork in the rococo style. The sculpture collection includes masterpieces from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and outstanding pieces from the 17th to the early 20th century. The new Greek and Roman Sculpture Gallery at the Museum has a collection of notable marble and bronze statues dating from the 4th century BCE to the 3rd century CE.
The Art Institute of Chicago (1879) in Chicago
|Architect||Renzo Piano (1937 – Present)|
|Featured Artists||Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Grant Wood|
The institute was established as both a museum and fine arts school in 1879. It began at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts building, which had been constructed a couple of years before and then relocated to its current home in Chicago’s Grant Park in 1893, where it has stayed ever since.
Photograph of the Art Institute of Chicago taken around 1900; See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It was one of the first institutions in the United States to begin collecting contemporary art in the early 20th century. The museum now houses a collection of approximately 300,000 artworks from the ancient era to the present. It is widely recognized as one of the best art museums in the U.S., attracting people from all over the world.
It is situated in a vast Beaux-Arts museum, and it immediately sets an ambiance with two bronze lions guarding the doorway. It is most known for its impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, although it also has a wide range of other styles. There are Byzantine artworks, displays of early American and European antiques from the 13th through to the 20th century, and many other fascinating works. The museum’s collection is extremely diverse, including works by artists from a wide range of cultural and creative influences.
Walker Art Center (1879) in Minneapolis
|Architect||Edward Larrabee Barnes (1915 – 2004)|
|Featured Artists||David Hammons, Yoko Ono, Martha Rosler, Martin Puryear, and Kara Walker|
The Walker Art Center is renowned for housing a significant collection of modern and contemporary artworks by American and European artists. Among the mediums are paintings, photographs, and sculptures. Even if you’re not a great admirer of art, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is one of the facility’s most appealing features. The museum also houses the Hahn/Cock, one of two extremely huge blue cockerels created by German artist Katerina Fritsch. The 20-foot-tall fiberglass figure is regarded as a satirical feminist piece. The Walker Art Center’s visual arts program has existed since its inception.
The program comprises a continuous cycle of gallery exhibits in addition to a permanent collection of acquired, gifted, and commissioned artworks. The Visual Arts program has sponsored residencies and purchased works of art by artists such as Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, Barry McGee, Robert Irwin, and Lorna Simpson since the 1960s.
Live performance art is a prominent component of Walker’s art programming, and the institution is regarded as a pioneer in exhibiting the medium. The Walker Art Center started offering local poetry, dance, and music in 1940, mostly arranged by volunteers.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (1880) in New York City
|Architect||Kevin Roche (1922 – 2019)|
|Featured Artists||John Singer Sargent, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, and Rembrandt|
|Location||New York City, New York|
The Metropolitan, considered the region’s cultural hub, is situated in Central Park in a magnificent building that features Gothic Revival architecture. The entire Metro museum actually encompasses several buildings, the most notable of which is the building on Fifth Avenue, which was opened in 1880. It was formed in 1870 by a team of American citizens with the purpose of constructing a public museum that would highlight the culture and art of the period. Since its foundation, the museum’s collection has grown dramatically, and it currently houses over 2 million artworks from across the world, covering over 5,000 years of art history.
The museum is well-known for its amazing collection of art from all nations and eras which covers everything from ancient Egyptian antiquities to contemporary art, allowing visitors to learn about the culture and art of other nations.
The Metropolitan Museum of art is regarded by many as an art world leader recognized for organizing creative exhibitions that promote contemporary artists’ works and explore new ideas and subjects. With more than two million artworks in its permanent collection acquired from Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, it is ranked number one of all the biggest art museums in America.
Milwaukee Art Museum (1888) in Milwaukee
|Architect||Santiago Calatrava (1951 – Present)|
|Featured Artists||Rembrandt, Paul Cézanne, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, and Edward Hopper|
If you enjoy architecture, you’ve probably heard of the Milwaukee Art Museum. It’s among the most renowned American art museums, not because of its exhibits, but because of its three stunningly built structures. A 90-foot arched glass ceiling, a white suspension bridge, and cantilevered wings that extend on clear days give it a futuristic look.
The Milwaukee Art Museum has lots of spectacular works of art in its 341,000-square-foot space. There are around 30,000 pieces on show here, including one of the world’s largest exhibits of Georgia O’Keeffe’s artworks.
There are additional works by Gustave Caillebotte, Joan Miro, and Claude Monet, as well as a large ceramics collection and several Folk and Outsider American Art galleries. Despite not being among the biggest art museums in America, it has a considerable number of works by contemporary painters. Tara Donovan, Andy Warhol, and Robert Smithson are among the artists represented. In addition, the museum’s basement houses a remarkable exhibit known as Chair Park, where guests may sit in renowned Eero Saarinen and Frank Lloyd Wright chairs.
High Museum of Art (1905) in Atlanta
|Architect||Remodeled by Renzo Piano (1937 – Present)|
|Featured Artists||Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, Eastman Johnson, Frederick Kensett, Sanford Robinson Gifford, John Henry Twachtman, and Harriet Hosmer|
This museum welcomes you with breathtaking aesthetics, a covering made of white porcelain, a novel lighting system, and charmingly winding paths. The total site consists of many buildings, and with 17,000 pieces, it is one of the largest museums in the Southeastern region.
The museum’s significant American art collection from the 19th and 20th centuries is one of its most important features. This collection includes works by Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Harriet Hosmer, Frederick Kensett, Edmonia Lewis, John Singleton Copley, and others.
In addition, there is a sizable European artwork collection, an African diaspora selection, and various pottery, masks, and sculptures going back to the 1300s. Don’t miss the photographic and decorative arts exhibits, as well as the large collection of traditional art and pieces made by self-taught artists. The Atlanta Art Association was formed in 1905, and its original location was a small exhibition in the basement of the city’s main library. The museum relocated to a new facility designed by Julian Abele in 1926. In 1979, the institution was renamed the High Museum of Art after its principal patron, Robert W. Woodruff.
Cleveland Museum of Art (1916) in Cleveland
|Architect||Rafael Viñoly Beceiro (1944 – Present)|
|Featured Artists||Eadweard Muybridge Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke, Carl Pope Jr., and Lorna Simpson|
Despite not being one of the biggest art museums in America, the museum still manages to draw in a staggering 550,000 visitors each year and has earned a reputation as one of the finest American art museums. Here, there are more than 61,000 pieces on show that span an amazing 6,000 years and are presented in a practical chronological sequence.
Numerous paintings, installations, photographs, antiques, and sculptures by well-known figures in art history may be found in the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Façade of the old wing of the Cleveland Museum of Art; Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In 1913, major Cleveland entrepreneurs John Huntington, Hinman Hurlbut, and Horace Kelley established the Cleveland Museum of Art as a trust. It originally featured works acquired by Jeptha H. Wade. Wade had amassed a vast collection of artworks and chose to gift them to the people of Cleveland in order to establish a public art museum. Wade, like his grandfather, was passionate about art and acted as the museum’s initial vice president until becoming president in 1920.
The museum first opened to the public in 1916, and it has since undergone various additions and modifications. It is today a prominent cultural institution in Cleveland, noted for its magnificent collection of international art.
Detroit Institute of Arts (1927) in Detroit
|Architect||Paul Philippe Cret (1876 – 1945)|
|Featured Artists||Auguste Rodin, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Diego Velázquez|
The museum is a beautiful beaux-arts construction with a large area that comprises a 380-person lecture hall and an auditorium that accommodates 1,150 people. The Detroit Institute of Arts houses over a hundred separate galleries. The museum’s collection includes artworks by Van Gogh and one of Diego Rivera’s murals.
Postcard featuring an illustration of the Detroit Institute of Arts (between 1930 and 1945); Tichnor Brothers, Publisher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
There is also a selection of activities and programs hosted here, such as book readings and concerts. With an encyclopedic collection spanning the art universe from ancient Egyptian and European artifacts to modern art, it is considered one of the best art museums in the U.S.
It was formed in 1885 by a group of individuals from the Detroit region who wished to establish a public art museum for the city. The museum began in a tiny building in downtown Detroit, with a limited collection of sculptures and paintings. African American art, American art, European prints, paintings, and drawings, in addition to modern and contemporary art, are particularly significant aspects of the museum’s collection. The museum’s first artwork was contributed in 1883, and it now has approximately 65,000 artworks in its collection.
Philadelphia Museum of Art (1928) in Philadelphia
|Architect||Julian Abele (1881 – 1950)|
|Featured Artists||Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, and Mary Cassatt|
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the country’s oldest art museums and was originally founded in 1876. The museum began in downtown Philadelphia before moving to its new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1928. It was modeled after Greek temples, but it is only the beginning of its distinguishing characteristics. Being one of the top U.S. art museums, it has 200 galleries and is constantly building more, which is an outstanding achievement for one of the country’s oldest museums. Within the museum complex, there are also complete buildings and part of old buildings including a rare polychrome Neo-Classical pediment.
This includes a 17th-century Chinese Palace hall and a 16th-century Indian temple hall. The museum’s collection has grown substantially over the years, and it now houses approximately 240,000 artworks covering 2,000 years of art. Sculptures, paintings, prints, drawings, photography, and decorative arts are among the art genres included in the museum’s collection.
The museum also offers special exhibits and educational initiatives, as well as a range of activities throughout the year. It’s also where Rocky Balboa sprints up the stairs in front of the museum in that iconic scene from the movie Rocky (1976).
Smithsonian American Art Museum (1929) in Washington D.C.
|Architect||Robert Mills (1781 – 1855)|
|Featured Artists||John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, and Cindy Sherman|
|Location||Washington D.C. District of Columbia|
It’s difficult to talk about art museums without mentioning the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is one of the most prominent and biggest art museums in America, with one of the world’s greatest art collections. The museum has had several names, numerous exhibits and modifications, and a long history. The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection includes works by over 7,000 artists.
The museum is free to enter, and you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to view and experience. Art from the New Deal, American impressionist artworks, the Gilded Age, African American artwork, Latino paintings, realism paintings, western expansion paintings, and photography are all particularly prevalent.
In addition to its many permanent galleries, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has enlarged public areas. Hence, it contains attractions like the Old Patent Model Museum, Lunder Conservation Center, and the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. Winslow Homer, John Singleton Copley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, and Cindy Sherman are a few of the painters whose work is on display at the museum.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (1929) in New York City
|Architect||Yoshio Taniguchi (1937 – Present)|
|Featured Artists||Edward Hopper, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, and Georgia O’Keeffe|
|Location||New York City, New York|
In 1929, three renowned art collectors, Mary Quinn Sullivan, Lillie P. Bliss, and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, founded MoMA in New York. Originally, the museum was meant to exhibit the most creative and influential contemporary art of the time. It has played a critical role in exposing the public to art since its inception, and it now houses a collection of approximately 150,000 artworks, including sculptures, paintings, prints, drawings, and photography.
The museum has a long history of working with artists and hosting cutting-edge shows that explore the frontiers of contemporary art. This has contributed to establishing it as a pioneer in the art world and an attraction for art enthusiasts from across the world.
After decades of showcasing Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and other prominent white men, the museum has reintroduced artworks by artists of color as well as female artists that had been sitting in their archives for decades. MoMA is dedicated to outreach and education, and it provides a wide range of activities and services for people of all ages, such as lectures, seminars, and interactive displays.
The Whitney Museum of American Art (1930) in New York City
|Architect||Marcel Breuer (1902 – 1981)|
|Featured Artists||Georgia O’Keeffe, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol|
Elizabeth Murray, Yoko Ono, and Kara Walker
|Location||New York City, New York|
The Whitney Museum of American Art is housed in a stunning glass-encased futuristic structure. The museum has 50,000 square feet of galleries, not even including its four outdoor areas, terraces, theater, and library. The Whitney, as it is commonly referred to, has about 23,000 artworks in is collection, the majority of which are from the previous and present centuries.
There are works by over 3,000 artists on show here, including Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquait, and Alexander Calder. The Whitney provides a collection of everything from photographs to paintings, sculptures, and videos.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, an American sculptor, art lover, and collector, established the museum in 1930. Whitney had a long history of supporting the art of Americans and had already helped to establish various other cultural institutions, such as the Whitney Studio Club. She gave the museum her private collection of about 500 pieces of art, which served as the foundation for its collection. The museum is primarily renowned for its emphasis on contemporary American art and its dedication to promoting the works of new and underrepresented artists.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1935) in San Francisco
|Architect||Mario Botta (1943 – Present)|
|Featured Artists||Richard Diebenkorn, Ana Mendieta, Frida Kahlo, Luise Bourgeois, and Francis Bacon|
|Location||San Francisco, California|
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the most cutting-edge art museums in the United States, with excellent facilities to match. The downtown institution is easily found because of its spectacular facade, a “living wall” made of indigenous plants and fiberglass panels that resemble water. The museum, which first opened its doors in the 1960s, is a 170,000-square-foot structure with 10 floors of display space. This was the very first museum on the West Coast completely dedicated to contemporary art and was established in 1935.
With a collection that covers a variety of mediums and genres, it has earned a reputation as a preeminent institution for contemporary and modern art over the years. With a series of ground-breaking exhibits and installations that investigated the confluence of arts and technology, the institution has also been at the vanguard of technical innovation in the art world.
It underwent a significant expansion in 2016 that roughly doubled the building’s capacity, enabling it to display even more of its vast collection. Louise Bourgeois, Richard Diebenkorn, Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, Alexander Calder, and Chuck Close are among the artists represented in the museum’s collection.
National Gallery of Art (1937) in Washington D.C.
|Architect||I. M. Pei (1917 – 2019)|
|Featured Artists||Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Henri Matisse|
|Location||Washington D.C., District of Columbia|
A joint vote of Congress created this famous museum in 1937. Andrew W. Mellon, a billionaire and art collector who began collecting art in the 1920s with the idea of establishing a national art museum, donated artworks to the museum. Mellon’s gift comprised approximately 1,000 sculptures and paintings as well as cash for the museum’s construction. The National Gallery of Art first opened its doors to the public on the 17th of March 1941, and has since become one of the top art museums in the U.S.
The East Building is designed in a modernist style and displays various modern artworks by artists such as Henri Matisse and Mark Rothko. The West Building’s architecture was influenced by the Roman Pantheon and houses paintings by artists ranging from Sandro Botticelli to Claude Monet.
For the most part, the National Gallery of Art concentrates on European and American artworks. There are sculptures, paintings, photographs, and prints, among other things. Some of the most notable artists whose work is featured at the museum include Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Henri Matisse.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1965) in Los Angeles
|Architect||William Pereira (1909 – 1985)|
|Featured Artists||Mary Cassatt, William Hogarth, John Singer Sargent, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, David Hockney, and Cindy Sherman|
|Location||Los Angeles, California|
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art debuted in 1965, and its 20-acre complex is made up of multiple independent buildings, each dedicated to various collections and often subdivided by culture. The museum was initially located in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park, but it was relocated to its present position on the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. The museum was founded by a group of local philanthropists and community leaders, notably Walter W. Dolle, William A. Dyke, and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California; Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
From Islamic antiques to modern artwork from Japanese and Korean art to European Impressionism, the museum has it all. There is also Mexican artwork, Greek artwork, design, fashion, and jewelry on exhibit. The museum’s collection has increasingly expanded over the years, and it presently holds over 150,000 artworks dating back over 5,000 years.
It is also renowned for its focus on contemporary art, with an emphasis on pieces by Los Angeles-area creators. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art organizes a range of exhibits and activities in addition to its permanent collections, making it a vibrant and fascinating museum to visit.
Getty Center (1997) – Los Angeles
|Architect||Richard Meier (1934 – Present)|
|Featured Artists||Artemisia Gentileschi, Bernardo Strozzi, Charles Le Brun, Frans Francken the Younger, Gerard van Opstal, and Jan Boeckhorst|
|Location||Los Angeles, California|
The Getty Center is a magnificent exhibition of beautiful architecture, making it more than simply one of America’s top art museums. It is housed in a concrete and steel structure that is round in shape and offers 360-degree views of the beautiful metropolis of L.A. from the Santa Monica Mountains. Bridges and fountains are strewn around the complex, giving it a medieval feel.
There are several exhibits in the Getty Center. There are antique texts, Renaissance artworks, 2,500-year-old Etruscan monuments, Baroque statues, American photographs, and more.
The institution also contains a library and research institute that are used by academics and researchers from all over the world. J. Paul Getty, an American oil magnate, and philanthropist created it in 1954 to explore and showcase art, design, and other cultural objects. The Getty Center is currently one of the most frequented cultural organizations in Los Angeles, noted for its outstanding art collection and picturesque surroundings. The buildings and grounds were designed by architect Richard Meier.
That wraps up our list of the best art museums in the U.S.! With a history that spans many centuries and incorporates many cultures and backgrounds, America is fertile ground for the emergence of unique and diverse art styles. This has resulted in an abundance of high-quality museums that cater to all types of art. From local artists to renowned international masters of history, the top art museums in the U.S. have them all!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Biggest Art Museums in America?
The Art Institute of Chicago contains approximately 300,000 works of art in its collection and welcomes over 1.5 million visitors every year. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is considered to be one of the world’s biggest and most visited American art museums, with nearly 2 million pieces. The National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.) contains approximately 150,000 artworks in its collection, and gets over 5 million visitors every year.
Where Can One Find the Best Art Museums in the U.S.?
Several of the top art museums in the U.S. are located in New York. However, this is not the only city known for its art, and notable art museums can be found all over the country, catering to a diverse and wide range of tastes. You can find excellent American art museums in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, and practically every other state across the nation.
Isabella studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature & Language and Psychology. Throughout her undergraduate years, she took Art History as an additional subject and absolutely loved it. Building on from her art history knowledge that began in high school, art has always been a particular area of fascination for her. From learning about artworks previously unknown to her, or sharpening her existing understanding of specific works, the ability to continue learning within this interesting sphere excites her greatly.
Her focal points of interest in art history encompass profiling specific artists and art movements, as it is these areas where she is able to really dig deep into the rich narrative of the art world. Additionally, she particularly enjoys exploring the different artistic styles of the 20th century, as well as the important impact that female artists have had on the development of art history.
Learn more about the Art in Context Team.