4 Lesser-Known Art Museums You’ll Love

OK, OK, we’ve all heard of the MoMA, the Met, the Art Institute, the Whitney, MOCA, and the Getty, but what about the whole country outside of America’s largest three cities?

I’ve found that a lot of the art museums you can find in smaller cities are interesting and enriching in ways that huge, well-known museums can’t be. Here are four museums you might not know about but you might just wind up loving:

indianapolis museum of art

Indianapolis Museum of Art

The IMA is, in my opinion, America’s best-kept museum-going secret. It absolutely deserves the fanfare usually reserved for major art museums – you know, like the Art Institute of Chicago, which was voted the world’s best museum in 2014, but has since then made curatorial choices that I’m still personally seething over. IMA, on the other hand, has become one of my favorite destinations – renting a car and driving there from Chicago is absolutely worth a weekend or even a one-day trip. The IMA does a lot with a much smaller budget than the bigger-name art museums, featuring important minor artworks by major artists like Hans Hoffmann, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio, alongside extraordinary examples of major art movements by minor artists, like  by James Turrell, alongside some of the best of recent art, with artworks from Nick Cave, Do Ho Suh, and El Anatsui and a huge collection of contemporary design. Best of all, it’s nestled in one heck of a cool city that is also the location of the world’s largest children’s museum.

museum of contemporary craft

Museum of Contemporary Craft

The Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon was founded in the 1920s as the Oregon Ceramics Studio, and during the Depression was granted WPA funds to function as a studio, a sales gallery, and an educational resource. In 1965, it converted to a museum, and this year it integrated with the Pacific Northwest College of Art. It’s the country’s longest-running craft institution, and the museum consistently provides what it calls “provocative” exhibitions on craft – such as its current major exhibit, Alien She, a retrospective of Riot Grrrl artwork by artists like L.J. Roberts, Miranda July, and Ginger Brooks Takahashi.

The City Museum, St. Louis

City Museum

St. Louis’s City Museum is housed within what used to be a gigantic warehouse and is now technically a children’s museum – or, as City Museum puts it, “an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.” The entire museum was built by St. Louis artisans, so the place itself is a work of art, featuring a life-sized whale, a Ferris wheel, a skate park (with swings, not skateboards), and a circus every day.

blanton museum

Blanton Museum of Art

The Blanton Museum of Art is part of the University of Texas at Austin, and, like the IMA, Blanton has a tremendous collection of minor artworks by well-known artists and exemplary artworks by less-known artists. It has also cultivated a huge collection of artworks by Latin American artists. Next year is going to be a great year for Blanton visitors – in February, an exhibition of identity art from the early 90s will be premiering, and in June, they’ll be hosting a Goya retrospective.

[Images via author, Wikipedia, IMA]

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