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Must-See Museum Exhibits for 2012

Art, Science, and History Exhibits You Should Check Out in 2012


Thousands of exhibits will come and go at U.S. museums in 2012. Which exhibits are ones that can't be missed? I've tracked down these must-see exhibitions running at U.S. museums during 2012 that focus on everything from European art to the Seattle grunge music scene.

If you want to learn more about the latest museum events and exhibits across the USA, you should follow my USA museums list on Twitter. The list contains up-to-the=minute info from nearly 300 museums and counting. For even more in-depth info about U.S. museums, visit the website for the American Association of Museums.

1. King Tut: The Exhibition

King Tut: The Exhibition
Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Houston; © National Geographic
Exhibit Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Pacific Science Center, Seattle
Dates: through April 15, 2012 (Houston); May 24, 2012-January 16, 2013 (Seattle)

Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, also known as King Tut: The Exhibition has been traveling to various United States museums for more than a year. In 2012, King Tut will be at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston through April 15, 2012, then will pack up and head northwest to Seattle's Pacific Science Center. Produced by National Geographic, this has been a blockbuster show everywhere it has landed and is a great opportunity to see some of Egypt's finest and rarest antiquities.

  • King Tut in Houston
  • King Tut in Seattle
  • 2. Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective

    Exhibit Location: The Art Institute of Chicago; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
    Dates: May 22-September 3, 2012 (Chicago); October 14, 2012-January 13, 2013 (Washington)

    The Art Institute of Chicago has curated the first major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work since the artist's death in 1997. Featuring 130 works in various mediums, the exhibit gives "gives full consideration to all periods of Lichtenstein’s career, including but not limited to, pre-Pop expressionist work, classic Pop Romance and War cartoon paintings, Mirrors, Brushstrokes, Explosions, Artist's Studio paintings, late nudes, and Chinese Landscapes." Art lovers unable to attend the Chicago show can catch it in Washington, DC, at the end of the year before it moves on to London's Tate Gallery.

    3. Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses

    Exhibit Location: EMP Museum, Seattle, Washington
    Dates: Through April 2013

    The EMP Museum in Seattle is the perfect place to host a retrospective on local grunge rockers Nirvana. Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses looks at the history of the Seattle band and includes never-before-seen artifacts, films, and photographs from the band members, their family and crew. The exhibit runs through the entirety of 2012 until April 2013, so you can be a bit of a slacker about seeing this one.

    4. Ai Weiwei: According to What?

    Exhibit Location: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
    Dates: October 4, 2012-February 24, 2013

    Approximately 25 works by the outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will be on display for the first time in North America at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. Through sculpture, video, and photography, the installations in "According to What?" will feature "insights into the interrelations between art, society, and individual experience and explored such universal topics as culture, history, politics, and tradition." In addition to this exhibition, the nearby Sackler Gallery will feature "Perspectives: Ai Weiwei" from May 12, 2012, to April 17, 2013.

    5. Space Shuttles on Display

    Space Shuttle Enterprise
    © Melanie Renzulli
    Exhibit Location: Washington, DC; New York City; Los Angeles; Cape Canaveral, Florida
    Dates: Discovery and Enterprise, spring 2012; Atlantis and Endeavour, summer 2012

    In April 2011, NASA announced that the four remaining shuttles from the Space Shuttle program would be relocated to museums around the country following their retirement from service. Space Shuttles Discovery, Enterprise, Endeavor, and Atlantis are entering the museum phase of their lives in 2012, with the four landing at the National Air and Space Museum: Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington, DC; Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City; California Science Center in Los Angeles; and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, respectively.

    For more information on the Space Shuttles and aviation museums, check out Top Aviation and Aerospace Museums in the USA.

    6. Van Gogh Up Close

    Exhibit Location: Philadelphia Museum of Art
    Dates: February 1-May 6, 2012 - This exhibit has ended.

    In its only appearance in the United States, Van Gogh Up Close showcases approximately 40 masterpieces from the Dutch artist. The exhibit features paintings that Van Gogh created during his "tumultuous years," during which he traveled from Antwerp to Paris to Auvers and painted landscapes, still life, and everyday objects with an unusual sense of perspective, depth of field, and focus.

    7. Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art

    Diego Rivera mural
    © MOMA
    Exhibit Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York City
    Dates: through May 14, 2012 - This exhibit has ended.

    In 1931, MOMA commissioned Diego Rivera to paint a series of five "portable" murals that would be featured in a retrospective on the Mexican artist's life. These murals depicted important scenes from Mexican history. After the blockbuster 1931 show, Rivera painted three more murals, this time incorporating themes from New York City life. This exhibit reunites these eight large murals for the first time in more than 80 years.

    8. Rembrandt in America

    Exhibit Location: Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Ohio
    Dates: February 19-May 28, 2012 - This exhibit has ended.

    The first Rembrandt show of its kind in the United States, Rembrandt in America brings together approximately 50 works privately-held by American collectors that are either autographed Rembrandts or paintings long considered to be by the Dutch artist. In tandem with this exhibition, the Cleveland Museum of Art will show the companion exhibit, "Rembrandt Prints from the Morgan Library," a show that will feature nearly 500 works created during the time Rembrandt was a print maker.

    9. Breaking the Color Barrier in Major League Baseball

    Exhibit Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
    Dates: January 18-June 17, 2012 - This exhibit has ended.

    A selection of 60 rare baseball cards dating from as early as 1915 help to tell of the struggle of racial integration of Major League Baseball. In particular, the exhibition will highlight the personal story of Jackie Robinson, the first player to break the color barrier when he moved from the Negro Leagues to MLB. The baseball cards on display at the Met Museum will come from the Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, the largest collection of baseball memorabilia outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.

    10. The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk

    Exhibit Location: de Young Museum, San Francisco
    Dates: March 24-August 19, 2012 - This exhibit has ended.

    A collection of 120 haute couture and ready-to-wear designs from the French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier will decorate the galleries of the de Young museum this spring and summer. In addition to the designs, which date between the 1970s and the 2000s, photographs, sketches, video clips, and 30 animated mannequins, which were created by the Montreal-based theater company Ubu Compagnie de Création, will make this a very lively show for fashion followers.

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