Which Museum Should You Visit?

Choosing a Museum to Visit

There are all sorts of art museums out there, from massive to tiny, internationally-famous to obscure, touristy to niche, and everything in between. Some can be fully explored in a few hours, while others would take days, weeks, or even months. Some include every kind of art imaginable; others focus on specific artists or styles. In other words, there is an art museum for everyone.

I can't tell you which museum to visit. That depends on your interests, location, etc. What I can suggest is scoping out a museum on its website before deciding to visit. Here is what to look for.

What's On

Not every museum features the same kinds of art. Most museum websites have a tab called collections, art, or explore, where you can find out more about what's on display. You'll usually find some indication of the museum's highlights - the artworks it considers to be its finest. You'll likely also find a list of departments or collection areas, which represent the different categories in which the museum owns art. Not every area is equally weighted at every museum, but clicking around will give you an idea of what is emphasized most.

For a variety of reasons, museums don't display anywhere near every artwork they own. (If you want to know why, I tell you here.) Plus, artworks get taken off view all the time to be studied, cleaned, loaned to other museums, and more. Entire galleries within museums can also experience temporary or long-term closures for renovation and re-installation. Seeing an image on the website is no guarantee that it will be on view when you arrive. If your visit is especially motivated by the desire to see a particular artwork or collection, I suggest verifying with the museum ahead of time that you will actually be able to see it.

Click the exhibitions, on view, or what's on tab to find out which exhibitions will be available on the day of your visit. Art museums have two types of exhibitions - permanent collection galleries and special exhibitions. Permanent collections galleries contain installations entirely of artworks owned by the museum. They're shown pretty much all the time, though museums do change it up every once in awhile. Special exhibitions, by contrast, are only on view for a limited time - anywhere from a few weeks to about a year. They often include loans from other museums.

I definitely don't suggest completely pre-planning your itinerary. Being in the moment and opening yourself up to new discoveries are part of the adventure. However, it might benefit you to start out with a general idea of what you're most interesting in seeing, since you most likely won't get around to everything.

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