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THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK
The Met recently underwent a dubious rebranding, but beyond the ugly new logo it remains one of the world's greatest museums. Like the Louvre in Paris, it is more a maze of treasures than a clearly organised collection. Highlights include the Temple of Dendur, transplanted whole from Egypt in 1978; the gallery's glass ceiling is designed to imitate the lighting in Nubia. As any fashionista knows, Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, has turned the Met's Costume Institute into another must-see with its rotating fashion exhibits that draw massive queues. This year, much of the museum's modern art collection was moved down the street to the Met Breuer, which is in a building that formerly housed the Whitney Museum. Don't miss it – or the art installations on the Met's rooftop garden, which offers killer views over Central Park. See metmuseum.org.
THE BARNES FOUNDATION, PHILADELPHIA
In the 1920s, a pharmaceuticals salesman named Albert C. Barnes began collecting impressionist and modernist paintings at a moment when many other collectors were snubbing their noses at the likes of Renoir and Amedeo Modigliani. His resulting collection is sublime. Barnes originally displayed it in the quiet suburb of Lower Merion, but a controversial move in 2012 means it is now located alongside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Still, the curators have kept Barnes' original vision intact, and this is what makes the foundation so remarkable: There are no labels here, no traditional museum galleries of clean white walls. Instead, Barnes arranged his collection as installations. Paintings are gathered by colour or theme, or some obscure idea that nobody except Barnes quite understands. The Barnes Foundation is itself a work of art. See barnesfoundation.org.
KIMBALL ART MUSEUM, FORT WORTH
When industry brought wealth to the wild state of Texas, the industrialists brought culture. Kay Kimbell is a case in point, the Forth Worth businessman amassing old masters and then bequeathing them to a foundation dedicated to public betterment. The Kimbell Art Museum, compared with many American museums, is quite small. But it punches above its weight for two reasons. The first is the astonishing building, by architect Louis Kahn – "as much a gem as one of the Rembrandts or Van Dycks housed within it," as the museum's founding director put it. And the second reason is the collection, which includes Michelangelo's first known painting, The Torment of Saint Anthony. Nowhere in the world will you get so close to a Michelangelo with so much space and quiet to contemplate its brilliance. See kimbellart.org.
THE GETTY CENTRE, LOS ANGELES
The Getty Centre is the quintessential Californian art museum. That is, it's not afraid to be splashy, a little bit ostentatious, and it likes to remind you about the weather and ocean. Costing some $1.3 billion, it sits up high in the Santa Monica Mountains; on a clear day you can see right over the Los Angeles skyline into the Pacific. The art is, of course, terrific. A massive exhibition of photography in the West Pavilion is particularly impressive. A second Getty site, in the Pacific Palisades, is dedicated to Mediterranean cultures and looks like a villa from Herculaneum, with just a touch of gaudy Las Vegas flair. See getty.edu.
ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
Like the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago is encyclopaedic – it attempts to cover everything. It is also the second largest museum in America after the Met. The institute has more familiar paintings than you can poke a stick at, including some of Monet's Water Lilies and Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. But you should come here for the American art, particularly. Two of the country's most iconic images are here: Edward's Hopper's Nighthawks, with its lonely figures sitting at the counter of a diner; and Grant Wood's American Gothic, the unsettling image of the man and woman with a pitchfork. Right outside the institute is Chicago's Grand Park, which is also worth a slow stroll to see what good public art looks like. See artic.edu.
THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS
A few years ago when the city of Detroit was in dire financial straits, somebody made the proposal to service debt by auctioning the holdings of the Detroit Institute of Art. Thank god a judge approved the city's federal bankruptcy plan, averting what would have been a travesty. (The collection is now held in trust and completely safe.) Housed in a beaux-arts building of startling beauty for a town now known for its urban ruins, the Detroit Institute is a marvel, covering everything from European art to the Islamic world. Be sure to visit the Centre for African American Art, one of the first in the country; and the soaring Rivera Court, which shows Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry fresco cycle in all its vibrant glory. See dia.org.