There are galleries, and there are galleries. Chances are in any city big or small, and even in towns scattered across the country, you can find spaces dedicated to displaying art. Think about all the times you’ve walked into a little café only to find paintings hanging along the walls, or of the innumerable little storefront galleries in major cities from coast to coast. Many of these are well run, reputable establishments and great places for emerging artists to get their work exhibited. But what about the big leagues? What are the galleries across the nation making tidal waves in the art world? We have rounded up ten of the very best, even if they are Museums from those you have no doubt heard of all your life to others that are perhaps less mainstream but certainly fixtures within the art community. Whether you are east coast, west coast, or somewhere in the vast in between, here are some of the best galleries from sea to shining sea.
1. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Located on the National Mall in the heart of our nation’s capital, the National Gallery is a beautiful respite from the bustle of the city outside. This is literally your museum, established by congress in 1937 and completely free of charge. The National Gallery houses an indescribable collection of art. It is massive, one of the largest museums in North America, so probably not something you can experience in its entirety in a single day, but if you’re in the D.C. area, the National Gallery and the attached sculpture garden are not to be missed.
2. Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston, MA
If you happen to be in the Northeast, it’s worth a trip to Boston just to experience the Isabella Steward Gardener Museum. This is truly a gem among galleries with its lush atrium and collection of important art from around the globe. Even the building itself is a sight to behold, designed largely after the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice.
3. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Originally the private collection of a lumber baron named Thomas Barlow Walker, the collection is now housed in a building designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. There are over 13,000 works of art at Walker, as well as performing arts and cinema. Do be advised that Walker is one of the most visited museums in the nation, welcoming over 700,000 people every year. Expect crowds.
4. Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA
This museum, the largest in North America dedicated to a single artist, houses work from the entire span of Andy Warhol’s career. Whether you are a Warhol fan or not, it is impossible not to recognize the impact his life and work had on the art world and the world at large. The museum also exhibits works by other well-known artists. In 2011, Yoko Ono exhibited an installation piece titled My Mommy is Beautiful.
5. Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, ME
Located on the breathtaking shores of mid-coast Maine, the Farnsworth Museum is dedicated to exhibiting great works of American art. Of particular focus are the works of the Wyeth Family, who spent summers in Maine and painted extensively while there.
6. Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA
This museum has gone by many names in its time. Originally established in 1941 under the name The Art Center in La Jolla, it subsequently became La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, and finally Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. Despite the identity crisis, the two parts of this museum—one located downtown and the other in the La Jolla area—are well worth a visit. The collection focuses on work from 1950 to the present in both its permanent collection and the many exhibitions featured throughout the year.
7. Women and Their Work, Austin, TX
Since the late 1970s, this gallery has been showcasing contemporary art by women from Texas and beyond. The gallery has played a role in building the careers of over 1800 women artists during its tenure. Women and Their Work was the first organization in Texas to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
8. Art Basel, Miami Beach, FL
Technically, this isn’t a gallery, it’s an art show. But the internationally renowned Art Basel in Miami Beach is worth a mention and perhaps worth a trip. Each winter, galleries from around the world come together to showcase art by both established and emerging names. Large scale installations and performance pieces happen throughout the city.
9. New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
Perhaps art isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most people think New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t alive and well in the Big Easy. NOMA ought to be near the top of the list along with Bourbon Street and beignets. The museum houses over 40,000 works from the Renaissance to today. Pissarro, Pollack, and O’Keeffe are just a few of the luminaries represented at NOMA.
10. Contessa Gallery, Cleveland, OH
Since its inception in 1999, Contessa Gallery has established itself as an important player on the national and international stage. The gallery exhibits and deals fine art spanning many eras. Contessa Gallery has participated in arts philanthropy throughout Ohio of Cleveland lending support to many institutions including Cleveland MOCA and Cleveland Museum of Art.