The RP’s Top Five Art Museums to Place on Your Bucket List

Here's Your Top 5 List!

It’s time again for yet another of my infamous Half-Letterman pop culture lists.  If you are a newbie, having joined our site after a “Prison Sex” Google search, SHAME ON YOU, and enjoy these links to all of my past gems:  Favorite Breakup SongsFavorite Hoops Books, Most Jew-ish GentilesFavorite “Docs” who Weren’t DoctorsPretty Boys I Begrudgingly Admire, Guilty PleasuresPop Music LyricsAwful TV Shows with Terrific Theme SongsMost Romantic Screen Scenes in the Rain, and Worst Oscar Robberies of Italian-Americans.

While lower forms of culture (and alleged outbursts of “humor”) are my forté; today, I will try to educate, inspire, and lift the RP Nation up out of the penis-joke muck by offering some high-brow pontification.  So with nose raised high, hand firmly patting own back, and notifications sent to all of those whom I desperately am trying to impress with my erudition, I hereby and heretofore offer my list of the Top Five Art Museums to Place on Your Bucket List:

HONORABLE MENTION:  The Tuska Museum, Lexington, KY

OK, it would be slightly disingenuous of me to lump this local fare into a group so rich in prestige and historic import. But as a disproportionate percentage of the RP Nation hails within driving distance of my hometown, I use this opportunity to strongly prod my neighbors into visiting this superb hidden local treasure. The Tuska Museum, a tribute to the life and art of John Tuska, Kentucky’s most celebrated 20th Century artist — housed within the late sculptor’s former off-campus home — features many of the legend’s greatest works. Tuska vividly captures the human condition through his exquisite draftsmanship, solemn paintings, and, most famously, extraordinary sculptures — in bronze, ceramic and paper.  Check out the permanent collection here and sign up today for a guided tour, performed with great love and passion by the artist’s son, Seth.

OK…back to our shew…

5. The Picasso Museum, Paris

A few years ago, Mrs. RP and I were wandering through the shops, synagogues, and kosher restaurants of Paris’ Marais District, the heart of France’s Jewish community, when we stumbled upon the under-advertised tribute to the greatest artist of the 20th Century. La Musée National Picasso features the late Spaniard’s personal collection of nearly 3000 of his own beloved works, as well as his collection of other great artists, such as CézanneDegasRousseauSeuratde Chirico and Matisse. The gallery is housed in a building that itself is worth espying: The Hôtel Salé, is a 17th century architectural masterpiece. Of course, you are going to have to wait a little bit to check this museum off your bucket list: It is currently closed for renovations, and will re-open in the spring of 2013.  So order your plane tickets early!

4. Vatican Museums/Sistene Chapel, Rome

The tour guides around Rome can only agree on one thing: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a d-bag. But they fiercely debate the value of the Catholic Church’s historical impact on the world of art and architecture. The guides at the Collosseum and the Roman Forum decry the Popes of the Middle Ages who robbed these historic sites of the art, architecture and majestic craftsmanship created at the behest of the Roman Emporers. But the Vatican guides ferociously celebrate how the Church maintained and preserved the best of the creativity of the pre-Renaissance Era. What’s indisputable is that in order to experience the greatest art of that age — and the greatest religious art of any era — you’ve got to head to the Vatican Museums.  You are undoubtedly familiar with the Sistene Chapel’s iconic ceiling, painted laboriously for years by prone Michaelangelo — and you’ve got to experience the entirely sublime head-craning spectacle — but the Museum (and the Chapel itself) have so much more to offer. And don’t neglect to stay for a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest, most ornate, and most visually spectacular church you will ever visit.  Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes on the most cobblestone roads and floors.  I learned that one the hard way. Ouch!

3. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

Good news:  You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to experience one of the world’s greatest art musuems. In fact, in my not-so-humble opinion, the MOMA features the world’s most spectacular collection of 19th and 20th Century artwork. Whenever I can squeeze a few hours out of a business trip to the Big Apple, I wander through the permanent collection on the fifth floor and give greetings to Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Chagall’s I and the Village and Rousseau’s Dream and Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans and Cezanne’s Bather and Monet’s Water Lillies and Jasper Johns’ Flag and…and..and…  The special exhibitions are always worth checking out as well, as MOMA works hard to include all of the visual arts, from film to electronic media, to architecture, to photography…the list goes on and on.  If you are new to the world of art, this is a great starter museum — many works that you’ve seen via the pop culture — even if you can’t exactly explain them — surrounded by hundreds of other incredible works that will expand and fortify your art cred.  And you don’t have to take six or seven planes to get back home.

2. Uffizi Gallery/Accademia Gallery, Florence

Go to Florence, Italy.  Now.  Wander the cobblestone streets and back alleys, check out the leather markets, share a bottle of chianti with your loved one, savor the blueberry filet at Acqua al 2 or the gelato at any corner ice cream stand, and — most importantly — visit two of the worlds most incredible art galleries — the Uffizi in the southern part of the town and the Accademia in center city.   The Uffizi has the most impressive cross-section of works — by far — constituting the personal collections of the famous (some say infamous) Medici family of the Renaissance age. Name any famous artist of that era, and you’ll find a few of his most celebrated works: whether it’s Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, or even some artists not named after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, such as Botticelli or Rembrandt.  But while the Accademia has the smaller, less diverse collection, it has David, who is worth the twelve hours of plane travel and handful of trains you have to take to get there. You’ve undoubtedly seen his picture, but you must experience him in person before you die. Simply put, he’s majestic.  Michaelangelo’s Sistene Chapel ceiling is an extraordinary work of art, but David is in a class by himself — both the power and the tenderness of the Hebrew King is reflected idyllically in a giant piece of stone.  Amazing. (And see, I am cultured: I got through the description without using the words “package,” “shrinkage,” or “thangggg”.)

1. Musée d’Orsay, Paris

I know what you are thinking.  Where’s the Louvre?!? Perhaps it is a bit unfair of me to leave the world’s most famous art museum off this list; and experiencing Venus de Milo and the I.M. Pei pyramid at the museum entrance are must-dos for any art lover. But I find The Louvre much too large, imposing and cavernous, filled with thousands of Middle Ages religious works that look just like the last one; and even the touristy highlight, Mona Lisa, is as underwhelming in person as David is surprisingly moving.  Visiting da Vinci’s masterpiece is like going to a press conference with a two-dimensional politician (aren’t we all?):  Everyone is stretching their camera phones above their heads, snapping a shot of the smallish, glass-shielded La Jaconde. By contrast, the Orsay feels like you are in somebody’s home — a very, very wealthy friend, of course — and the experience brings you intimately in proximity with the greatest art works of my favorite period: the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, including all of the French and other European greats from that uniquely special time: MonetManetDegasRenoirCézanneSeuratSisleyGauguin and Van Gogh. There are even some surprises like Whistler’s Mother.  Even the audio guide stood out: comprehensive, informative, and insightful.  I could spend days there.  So, next time you are in the City of Love, make sure to cross over to the Left Bank and check out the Orsay.  And tell them Le Politicién Recupérent sent you.

All right, I admit: Art is very subjective.  My world travel is limited, and my knowledge of Eastern and African cultures couldn’t fill a thimble.

What did I miss?


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