ART CAPITALS OF THE WORLD
Even as art prices soar to astronomical heights, and once obscure but exclusive art happenings become trendy, celebrity-laden affairs splashed across the pages of glossy magazines, art has perhaps never been more widely accessible to the masses than it is today. With that in mind, we take a look at four of the leading art capitals of the world. Each destination has its own character and unique personality complemented by a distinctive collection of museums and lively annual rosters of art fairs and events. Here we identify the very best that each has to offer.
Strictly by the numbers, London is arguably Europe’s art capital. With a total of more than 330 art events throughout the year, 300+ art galleries, and an auction turnover of nearly $2 billion in 2021, few other destinations in the world, let alone in Europe, even come close to matching London’s prominence on the global art scene.
Numbers aside, London’s status as one of the world’s most important art capitals is buttressed by the fact that it is not only home to some of the buzziest contemporary artists of the day, but also attracts both top drawer artists who want to show their work as well as the serious collectors and art aficionados most interested in purchasing that work. This is all, of course, in addition to the fact that London harbors an extraordinary collection of museums as well as an impressive line-up of some of the most important art fairs in the world.
Topping the list of London’s most notable museums is the Tate Modern. Dramatically housed in the former Bankside Power Station on the banks of the Thames, Britain’s national museum of modern and contemporary art, showcases over a hundred years of art, from modernism in the early 1900s, to exciting works created today. This includes paintings, sculptures, and more made by artists all over the world ranging from Picasso, Rothko, DalÍ, Pollock, and Warhol to Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and Jenny Holzer. Highlights of the upcoming season include a towering forest-like display of woven fiber sculptures by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz and a rare survey exhibition highlighting the abstract sculptures of Prague-born Slovak artist Maria Bartuszová.
Credit: Jui-Chi Chan
Another showpiece on the London museum scene is the Victoria and Albert Museum, which together with the nearby Natural History Museum and Science Museum forms part of what is known as the “Museum Quarter” in South Kensington. Always a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, the V&A is widely acclaimed as the world’s leading museum of art and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.8 million objects, books, and archives that span over 5,000 years of human creativity.
Beyond holding many of the UK’s national collections and housing some of the greatest resources for the study of architecture, furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewelry, glass, ceramics, book arts, Asian art and design, theatre and performance, the V&A regularly hosts blockbuster temporary exhibitions that have become the toast of London. On the heels of recent hit shows such as displays celebrating Christian Dior, Tim Walker, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this season’s stellar roster of displays includes Re:Imagining Musicals, celebrating the glittering world of musical theatre, and exploring the evolution and craftsmanship of iconic musicals, from Miss Saigon and My Fair Lady to modern classics SIX the Musical, and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
As with museums, London is also no slouch when it comes to art fairs, of which the city annually hosts many. On tap for 2023: The London Art Biennale, which presents over 300 artists from all traditions and lines of thought, emerging and established, in a celebration of contemporary art on the historic King’s Road in Chelsea; Frieze London and Frieze Masters, which is considered the most important contemporary art fair in London and features over 170 of the most exciting contemporary art galleries in the world; the venerable PAD London art fair, which takes place in Mayfair’s Berkeley Square, and showcases a mix of modern art, photography, glass and ceramics, fine art and jewelry, featuring galleries from countries across Europe, North America and Asia; and Decorex, Europe’s leading interior design show which returns to Olympia London for its 45th edition this year.
Lastly, when it comes to the ultimate in artsy accommodations in London, look no further than Mayfair’s ultra-chic, 45-room, art-filled 45 Park Lane which is a self-described “potent, living canvas for an evolving collection of work by contemporary British artists.” Apart from the hotel’s current exhibition of contemporary photographer David Bailey’s iconic portraits of legendary musicians, tracing movements from jazz and early rock-and-roll to punk, Britpop, and hip-hop captured over the past six decades, Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant The Cut inside the 45 Park Lane hotel boasts 16 of Damian Hirst’s limited edition ‘Diamond Dust Psalms’ series hanging together for the first time. Talk about giving new meaning to the phrase, ‘a room with a view’.
Nonstop flights from Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR) are available on American and United Airlines.
Like London, Berlin is a city rich in art. In addition to museums dating back nearly two centuries brimming with historically significant collections and artworks, Berlin also boasts an abundance of contemporary art offerings alongside a plethora of urban street art and a litany of noteworthy annual art events.
With respect to the former, Berlin’s Museum Island, with its five museums imposingly set on Spreeinsel (Spree Island) in the heart of Berlin, is the largest museum ensemble in the world. In tandem with the modern James Simon Gallery, the five world-famous museum buildings, dating back to the time of Prussian rule in 1830, form a heady ensemble that was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999.
Among the works of art in the dizzyingly exciting collection are inestimable treasures ranging from the 3,000-year-old bust of Nefertiti (Neues Museum) and the Babylonian Ishtar Gate with the Processional Way (Pergamon Museum), which can be traced back to 575 BCE and the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar II, to world-renowned works such as The Monk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich and The Thinker by Auguste Rodin (Alte Nationalgalerie). Elsewhere in the expansive complex, there are even sculptures, jewelry, vases, and coins from Greek and Etruscan art, as well as from the Roman Empire
In stark contrast to the hallowed Museum Island, many of the streets of Berlin are in and of themselves massive open-air galleries blanketed with towering, oversized murals, some of which, like the Molecule Man in the Spree and the mosaics on the outer walls of the Haus des Lehrers, predate German reunification and trace their roots back to the GDR. Of particular note is Bülowstraße in Schöneberg, home to the Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art, where a profusion of national and international urban art icons generously display their handiwork all over the street and on the ever-changing façade of the museum itself.
There’s also the open-air gallery on the Spree, the longest section of the Wall still standing; the street art around Mehringplatz, which includes several intriguing murals by internationally renowned artists including one by Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the iconic Hope poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign; and Teufelsberg, a former US spy station that has been transformed into the largest street art gallery in Europe.
In terms of art festivals, Berlin more than lives up to its reputation as Europe’s burgeoning new art capital courtesy of a plentitude of annual and biannual art festivals. Chief among these is the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, a biannual happening inspired by the Venice Biennale which has become one of the most important international forums for contemporary art, and Berlin Art Week, an annual platform and major collaboration between the most important institutions in the Berlin art world ranging from museums to exhibition houses, fairs, private collections, project spaces, and numerous galleries.
Finally, for the most perfectly stylish accommodations in Berlin, look no further than the stunning luxury boutique hotel SO/ Berlin Das Stue, ensconced in the former Royal Danish Embassy and located in the middle of the embassy district — near the Landwehr Canal in direct proximity to the Berlin Zoo. In this exquisite property, art and fashion intersect flawlessly.
The hotel’s logo and uniforms were designed by Viktor & Rolf; portraits of iconic personalities like the Klitschko brothers, Wim Wenders, Franka Potente, Naomi Campbell and Duran Duran taken by acclaimed photographer Christian Thomas line the corridors of the hotel; wire mesh animal sculptures by Milan-based artist Benedetta Mori populate the hotel’s common spaces building a bridge between the property and the neighboring zoo; and a huge crocodile sculpture crafted by multiple award-winning Parisian artist Quentin Garel presides over the reception area, welcoming each guest as they enter the hotel. All of this plus proximity to Kurfürstendamm, the most famous shopping street in Berlin, and the natural beauty of the idyllic Tiergarten.
In a small cache of destinations around the globe, the art most closely associated with a city is a direct reflection of the character and lifestyle of the city itself. Miami is without question such a place.
From its clean, contemporary architecture and skyline to its varicolored, multicultural neighborhoods and iconic beaches lined with swaying palm trees, sun-drenched Miami is a city where modernity marries seamlessly with the cultural diversity that infuses every element of life in this world-class art destination.
Case in point, Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) which is located in Downtown Miami’s Museum Park overlooking Biscayne Bay. The critically acclaimed structure designed by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron houses an impressive collection of 20th and 21st-century art with an emphasis on works that relate to Miami’s ethnically rich community as well as Latin America, the Caribbean, and the African diaspora. In addition to exploring the museum’s three floors of galleries comprised of nearly 3,000 permanent collection pieces plus additional rotating exhibits, art enthusiasts are invited to continue their exploration outdoors in the museum’s lush hanging gardens where large scale sculptures commingle with the native hammock garden.
Similarly, in the edgy, hipster Wynwood Arts District, a veritable treasure trove of works by groundbreaking artists can be seen throughout the neighborhood and at Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum dedicated to street art that perhaps captures the raw creative energy of Miami better than any other space in the city.
Meanwhile, over in the über chic Design District, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA) through an energetic calendar of exhibitions and programs, and its singularly curated collection, provides an important international platform for the work of innovative local, emerging, and under-recognized artists, while The Bass Museum, located in the heart of South Beach steps away from the ocean, focuses on multidisciplinary exhibitions of international contemporary art by mid-career and established artists reflecting the spirit and international character of Miami Beach.
Though Miami hosts numerous art events throughout the year, none can match Miami Art Week, which takes place annually each November and features over 20 art fairs (including the exclusive Art Basel, CONTEXT Art Miami, and Design Miami), over 1,200 galleries and thousands of artists. Growing in popularity with each passing year, this event has become one of the most (if not the most) buzzed about annual art events in America, attracting thousands of art collectors and buyers, VIPs, art lovers, and tourists from all around the world all gathered in the name of art as well as more than a few celebrity-laden fashion, music, and cultural parties and galas.
Nonstop flights from Chicago to Miami are available from ORD on American, Spirit, and United Airlines and from MDW on Frontier.
Art has not perhaps always been front of mind for most when contemplating travel to Mexico City (CDMX), but the last few decades have seen the city enjoy a renaissance of sorts and art has played a major role in shaping the contemporary face of this vibrant, colorful, evermore cosmopolitan megalopolis. At the heart of the bustling city’s revivification has arguably been Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, whose Museo Soumaya is the shining star among Mexico City’s constellation of notable museums.
Completed in 2011, the gleaming, architecturally arresting museum named for Slim’s late wife who passed away in 1999, has fast become one of the most visited museums in all of Mexico. And for good reason.
Not only is the magnificent six-story structure home to Slim’s large, eclectic private collection of over 66,000 pieces of art, ranging from significant works by the likes of Matisse, Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Miró, van Gogh and El Greco to works by Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera, Alfredo Ramos Martìnez, Juan Soriano and Francisco Toledo, it also houses the largest collection of sculptures by Rodin outside France, as well as the world’s largest private collection of art, alongside the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial-era coins, among an assortment of other treasures valued at nearly $1 billion.
That said, Mexico City’s current art boom cannot solely be attributed to Carlos Slim because art has been at the heart of life in the city for decades. Long before the Soumaya helped transform the city’s exclusive Polanco neighborhood, Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, put the city on the map as an artist’s haven. In fact, their former home, Casa Azul, in the Coyoacan district still stands today. Thousands of tourists regularly flock to the space that nurtured the creative genius of its acclaimed former inhabitants. Correspondingly, the Museo Nacional de Antropología in the famed Chapultepec Park which was completed in 1964 and showcases the world’s largest collection of ancient Mexican artifacts has long been, and continues to be, a paean to Mexico’s rich artistic history.
Likewise, the annual Zona Maco Design Fair in Mexico City, widely hailed as the most important contemporary art fair in Latin America, has played a significant role in adding to the artistic allure of the city over the last two decades. Founded in 2002 by Zélika García, Zona Maco holds four events annually at Centro Citibanamex in Mexico City: Zona Maco México Arte Contemporáneo brings together leading and emerging national and international art galleries; Zona Maco Design, established in 2011, exhibits furniture, jewelry, textiles, limited editions, and decorative objects; Zona Maco Salon created in 2014, exhibits antiques; and Zona Maco Foto which features vintage, modern and contemporary photography since 2015.
Nonstop flights from Chicago (ORD) to Mexico City (MEX) are available on AeroMexico, United, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris Airlines.