The following list, which covers museums from New York City to Los Angeles and everything in between, is compiled thanks to a recent survey of the world's most visited art museums. It hardly speaks to the volume of quality museums, dedicated to art or otherwise, in the United States. So I suggest you follow my Twitter list of U.S. Museums for additional ideas of museums to visit.
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. In late 2011 and early 2012, The Met re-opened its renovated galleries of American Art and Islamic Art. Also housed here is the Costume Institute, which contains examples of fashions through the centuries.
Must-See Works of Art: Hokusai's "The Great Wave off Kanagawa (left), is a signature piece of The Met's Asian Art collection. The Egyptian Collection includes the Temple of Dendur, an original temple from 15BC. The small European Collection contains works from some of the biggest names - Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, Monet.
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, with the former containing the bulk of the museum's American and European Collections and the latter containing mostly modern art and special exhibition space. Entry to the National Gallery is free. (Note: The National Gallery of Art is not under the jurisdiction of the Smithsonian Institution.)
Must-See Works of Art: The NGA's prized posession is the portrait of Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo da Vinci (left). This is the only Leonardo painting in the Americas.
The Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan contains a vast collection of Modernist art and organizes regular exhibitions of contemporary art in its recently remodeled galleries. 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."
The J. Paul Getty Museum is located in two locations in Los Angeles. The Getty Center, in Brentwood, is the home for the collection of pre-20th Century European paintings, sculpture, and furnishings and 19th and 20th Century photographs from Europe and North America. It is housed in a building designed by architect Richard Meier, and its Central Garden was designed by Robert Irwin.
The Getty Center receives the bulk of the Getty Museum's total visitors, but the Getty Villa, located in Pacific Palisades, is also impressive. Here is where the Getty displays its collection of antiquities, some of which have been controversial (see the book "Chasing Aphrodite" [compare prices]). Must-See Works of Art:Van Gogh's "Irises;" "Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster with Cupid" by John Deare; "The Supper at Emmaus" by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi.
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art are the highlights of the collection at The Art Institute of Chicago, a renowned museum located in the city's Grant Park. The Art Institute also has a collection of African American art.
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."
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 French Impressionist paintings. Thanks to Boston's twinning with the city of Nagoya, Japan, the MFA's Japanese art collection (the Edward S. Morse Collection) is the most extensive outside of Japan. Chinese art is also on display.
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.
This fine arts institution in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is renowned for its American Art collection, including a focus on art specifically from California. The de Young museum also has a broad collection of art from the Americas, ranging from pre-Columbian times to the 20th century, and art from Oceania. More than 13,000 textiles and costumes make up the de Young's significant textiles collection.
Must-See Works of Art:Wayne Thiebaud's "Three Machines" (left); "Prometheus Bound" by Thomas Cole; Edward Hicks' "Peaceable Kingdom;" and "California Spring" by Albert Bierstadt.
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. Its 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. Also noteworthy are the Asian art collections, particular its Korean art collection, which is the largest outside of Korea, and some elaborate religious pieces from South Asia.
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;" the Robert Mapplethorpe Photography Collection.
The Smithsonian Institution's most popular museum is the American Art Museum, which is situated in downtown Washington, DC, at Gallery Place. Housed here are works from all genres, from Colonial-era painting to Folk Art, and representing all regions of the United States.
Must-See Works of Art:Albert Bierstadt's "Among the Sierra Nevada" (left); "Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii," a nation-shaped video installation by artist Nam June Paik; Georgia O'Keefe's "Manhattan;" and "Cape Cod Morning" by Edward Hopper.