With more than 20,000 objects in its collection, the Phoenix Art Museum is the largest visual arts museum between Denver and Los Angeles. In addition to American, Western American, Latin American, Asian, European, modern, and contemporary art, the museum showcases an exceptional photography collection and nearly 6,000 fashion pieces spanning 500 years.
Depending on how much time you spend in each gallery, you can easily combine a trip to the Phoenix Art Museum with a visit to the neighboring Heard Museum, where you can explore Native American art. Other downtown museums, like the Arizona Science Center, are easily accessible by light rail.
History and Background
Although the Phoenix Art Museum opened in November 1959, the collection it houses dates back to the state’s earliest days when the Phoenix Women’s Club pledged to purchase one work of art each year to promote art and culture in the city. That collection grew as Phoenix did, and by the mid-1950s, it became obvious the city needed a dedicated museum.
Construction began in January 1959, and when the museum opened in the following November, it was able to exhibit artwork from the late-14th century to the present day. Since that time, the museum has added pieces to all its collections with a special emphasis on Western art and fashion design.
What to See and Do
The museum’s permanent gallery has nine collecting areas: American art, Western American art, Latin American art, Asian art, European art, modern art, contemporary art, fashion design, and photography. Most visitors start on the second floor with the European collection and continue through the American and Western American collections, but don’t miss the impressive Asian collection featuring more than 2,700 works from China, Japan, Korea, Indian, Iran, Nepal, and other countries on the first floor.
The Thorne Rooms are another museum highlight. Located just off the European collection on the second floor, these miniatures replicate the architecture and interior design of 20 American and European rooms on a 1:12 scale. In the Katz Wing on the second floor, the fashion design collection showcases historic dress and accessories as well as pieces by Chanel, Christian Dior, and other designers.
It’s also worth trekking up to the third floor to see the permanent installation, “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies.” This mixed media installation by Yayoi Kusama uses LED lights to create an infinity experience. While there, check out the contemporary art and photography collections.
For a good overview of the permanent collection highlights, take a one-hour, docent-led tour, offered once or twice per day, depending on the day. Or, opt for the self-guided audio tour, available in English and Spanish, instead.
Events, Programs, and Workshops
The Phoenix Art Museum offers a full calendar of special events, programs, including movies, concerts, lectures, open gallery talks, and art classes. Yoga in the museum and mindfulness classes that explore popular artwork are also available. Since most special events, programs, and workshops require advance registration, check the calendar in advance of your visit to participate. Some offerings may have an additional charge.
How to Visit
The Phoenix Art Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. Weekday afternoons and early evenings are generally quietest; weekday mornings can be busy with school tours or groups from children's summer programs. Locals tend to visit on Saturday and Sunday and combine the visit with brunch at Palette, the museum's café.
Tickets can be purchased online through the museum’s website or at Visitor Services in the Greenbaum Lobby. In-person purchases may require a debit or credit card to complete. (Consult the website before leaving to see the current status of this policy.)
Expect to spend at least two hours at the museum, longer if you will be viewing a special exhibit. Phoenix visitors who want to double up on attractions can easily combine a stop at the Phoenix Art Museum with a visit at the nearby Heard Museum or can take the light rail to Heritage Square to tour the Arizona Science Center or Children's Museum of Phoenix.
The Phoenix Art Museum is located in downtown Phoenix just north of the I-10. Parking is free, and most of the time, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a spot in the large lot the museum shares with the Phoenix Theatre.
From the south: Take I-10 west towards Phoenix. Take the 7th Street exit, and keep right at the fork in the exit ramp. (Stay in the left-most right turn lane.) Turn right (north) onto 7th Street. At the next intersection, turn left (west) onto McDowell Road. Turn right (north) onto Central Ave.
From the west: Take I-10 east toward Tucson, and exit at 7th Avenue. Keep left at the fork in the exit ramp. Turn left (north) onto 7th Avenue to McDowell. Turn right (east) onto McDowell. At Alvarado Street, just past Central, make a left (north).
From the north: Take I-17 and exit at McDowell Rd. Go left (east) on McDowell Rd. At Alvarado Street, just past Central, make a left (north).
The Phoenix Art Museum is accessible by light rail. Use the Central/McDowell station.
Tips for Visiting
- Admission is free on the first Friday of the month from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., just before First Friday festivities kick off in downtown Phoenix. Stop by the museum for live music, dance performances, art-making activities, and more.
- Every Wednesday is Pay-What-You-Wish Wednesday. Come between 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and pay what you can afford to visit the museum.
- If you are visiting with kids, pick up a family guide at Visitor Services. The guide contains a map, information on museum highlights, art-based activities, and even themed scavenger hunts.
- Still photography (no flash) is permitted for personal, non-commercial use. Works on loan (not in the permanent collection) may not be photographed.
- The Museum Shop sells art books, stylish décor, art supplies, children's gifts, and locally-made items, and more. Even if you don't have time to tour the art museum, you can visit the gift shop to purchase souvenirs.
- The Phoenix Art Museum’s cafe, Palette, serves salads, sandwiches, and simple entrees for lunch and dinner as well as Sunday brunch. Enjoy your meal inside or on the patio overlooking the Dorrance Sculpture Garden with an Arizona wine, local beer, or premium cocktail.