The United States is home to some of the most sophisticated art museums in the world and houses some of the most famous works of art. From Leonardo da Vinci to Roy Lichtenstein, every artistic era and medium is represented in museums throughout the country.
The following list, which covers museums from New York City to Los Angeles and everything in between, is compiled thanks to a Ranker survey of America’s most visited art museums. Keep in mind that there are many, many other worthy art museums in the United States, but this is a good start.
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Bordering NYC's Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the United States, housing more than two million pieces in its permanent collection curated from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The Museum is always expanding and transformed its Whitney space in March 2016 to the new Met Breuer, a separate museum of the Met that houses exclusive contemporary art pieces.
Must-See Works of Art: The Egyptian Collection including the Temple of Dendur, an original temple from 15 B.C. The complete Vermeer collection. Couture designs by Chanel, Laurent, and Balenciaga.
The more than 450,000 works of art that make up the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston make it one of the largest museums in the United States. Its most renowned collections are its American Art, Egyptian Art, and ongoing #techstyle exhibit that features fashion in the age of sci-fi technology. Thanks to Boston's twinning with the city of Nagoya—the MFA's Japanese art collection (the Edward S. Morse Collection)—this museum houses America’s most extensive collection of Japanese art and pottery outside Japan. A big fan of music? Don’t forget to also check out the gallery of 1,100 musical instruments from the Medieval times to now, complete with daily gallery demonstrations.
Must-See Works of Art: John Singleton Copley's portrait of Paul Revere (left). Also noteworthy are Copley's "Watson and the Shark;" Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington; works by Gauguin, Cézanne, Monet.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a museum of the old and the new and features one of the largest collection of American artworks found in the USA, next to its acquisition of important paintings by Cezanne, Manet, DuChamp, and Marisso. The bustling museum contains more than 220,000 pieces, such as intricate Persian and Turkish rugs, and also houses one of the world’s most-visited Rodin sculpture collections. For young art lovers or fashionistas, the museum has a bevy of interesting art exhibits, from its fashion-heavy Creative Africa exhibit to play installations by Joseph Kosuth.
Must-See Works of Art: Creative Africa exhibition; AMOR sculpture on museum steps; Monte Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cezanne; Basket of Fruit by Edouard Manet. Also, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Collection of Private Art is one of the country’s leading private collections that is now open to the public at this museum.
National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art, established in 1937, is the United States' national collection of fine art housed on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The museum is split into west and east buildings. The former contains the museum's American and European Collections, specifically its Kress collection featuring an abundance of Italian pieces, and the latter containing mostly modern art and special exhibition space. (Note: The National Gallery of Art is not under the jurisdiction of the Smithsonian Institution.)
Must-See Works of Art: Portrait of Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo da Vinci (left). This is the only Leonardo painting in the Americas. Samuel Kress Collection.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan contains a vast collection of Modernist art and organizes short exhibitions featuring collections from overseas in its stunning white abstract backdrop. Some of the 20th Century's most recognizable paintings by the likes of Van Gogh, Rousseau, Pollock, and Picasso grace the walls of the MoMA.
Visitor's Tips for the MoMA: Note that admission to the MoMA is free on Fridays from 4-8 p.m. (expect crowds). The Modern, the restaurant that is open only to museum patrons, is one of New York City's Michelin-starred restaurants The Modern does not accept reservations.
Must-See Works of Art: Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is incredible to see in person. Other must-see works include "The Sleeping Gypsy" by Henri Rousseau; "Number 31" by Jackson Pollock; "Flag" by Jasper Johns; Andy Warhol's "Campbell Soup Cans;" and Gustav Klimt’s “Adele Bloch Bauer II.”
Taking a trip down to Ohio and want to saunter through an art museum? Look no further than Cleveland Museum of Art, a buzzing 45,000-piece art museum that houses Botticelli, Van Gogh, Goya, Matisse and other famous painters in less crowded, larger spaced galleries compared to the Met or MoMA. The museum has art for every age, from ancient Tibetan pieces to art models for kids, and is the only American museum to possess a surviving Gothic table fountain. This year, the museum is pushing its boundaries for its Centennial Celebration by featuring the largest amount of Albert Oehlen artwork to-date in the US.
Must-See Works of Art: The Parisian Gothic Table Fountain from 1320-40; 18th-century French monarchy and bourgeoisie pre- and post-French revolution paintings; Albert Oehlen; Woods near Oehle.
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art are the highlights of the collection at The Art Institute of Chicago, the second largest art museum in the US. The museum is famed for its expansive collection of American art, African-American art, antique Asian art and 20th-century furniture. If you are a Monet enthusiast, don’t forget to stroll through this museum to catch one of America’s largest collection of Monet paintings.
Must-See Works of Art: Georges Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (left) is a famous piece in the Art Institute's collection. Additionally, there are numerous paintings from Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, and Cassatt. In its American Collection, look for Grant Wood's "American Gothic."
Detroit Institute Of The Arts is one of the smaller museums on this list, with 65,000 pieces on display but its packs a punch. Containing exclusive collections of Early European art paintings, American art, and ancient artifacts, the museum frequently ranks in the top 5 art museums to see of the US. This museum is the museum you should run to if you are desperate to stare at Rodin’s “The Thinker”, and glimpse Peter Bruegel The Elder’s “The Wedding Dance.”
Must-see Works of Art: Rodin’s “The Thinker” (left); Diego Rivera’s mural for the museum.
The LACMA, as it is usually called, is the largest art museum west of Chicago, with an estimated 100,000 works of art dating from ancient times to present day. It's best known for its American galleries, which focus on pre-Columbian and Latin American art. Thanks to perpetually fine weather, the LACMA has numerous temporary and permanent outdoor installations.
Must-See Works of Art: LACMA's newest star artwork is "Levitated Mass," a boulder sculpture realized by artist Michael Heizer. "Urban Light" (left) by Chris Burden is another iconic installation.
Set in a distinctive, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is known for its modern artworks. Originally called The Museum of Non-Objective Painting when it opened in 1939, the Guggenheim started with a collection of American and European abstract and non-objective works. Renamed after its founder in 1952, the Guggenheim now displays its core abstract collection along with works from all manner of contemporary art genres, among them Dada, Impressionism, Pop Art, and Surrealism.
Must-See Works of Art: Any number of works by Vasily Kandinsky, an artist for whom a whole gallery is dedicated. "Paris Through the Window" by Marc Chagall; Amedeo Modigliani's "Nude;" Édouard Manet's "Before the Mirror;" Pablo Picasso's "Woman with Yellow Hair;" the Robert Mapplethorpe Photography Collection.