Statue of David

Four of the Best Cities for Art Lovers


If it seems like you spend hours on each holiday wandering around galleries and museums displaying second-rate art then fear not, here is a guide to the four best cities in the world for art lovers. Whether you are into cutting edge conceptual art, or the most famous works from the Old Masters, there’s something here for every culture vulture.

Florence

Statue of David
(Michelangelo’s David, Florence, image by gregw66 on Flickr)

Visitors to the Renaissance city of Florence do not have to visit stuffy galleries or museums of hushed reverence to experience some of the greatest art ever created. Just walking around the streets of Florence is wonderful enough, with fountains and statues, sculptures and frescoes seemingly abounding on every street corner and public piazza. Some of the best al fresco works on display include Cellini’s bronze sculpture of Perseus with the Head of Medusa and, of course, Michelangelo’s incomparable David. Along with world class museums such as the Uffizi and the Palatine Gallery, one of Florence’s best art experiences is to walk the Vasari Corridor, a previously secret passageway that extends across the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and filled with historic portraits of the city’s great and good. Access to this exclusive display is limited, so good luck getting in, but advance bookings can be arranged. Of course, one can have too much of a good thing. When French author Stendhal visited this city in 1817 he spent so much time walking around the fine collections and exhibitions that, after complaining of dizziness and a palpitating heart, he collapsed in the street. On recovering he said he had simply experienced too much beauty in too short a space of time. Ever since, this sensation of feeling light-headed and exhausted after viewing great works of art in the famed galleries has been called The Stendhal Syndrome.

Vienna

Kunsthistorisches Vienna
(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, image by ghazzog on Flickr)

More known for an unparalleled classic music heritage including the likes of Brahms, Strauss and Beethoven, Vienna is also one of the most impressive art cities on earth. The vast collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, showcasing works collected by the Hapsburg dynasty, includes pieces by Old Masters such as Raphael, Velazquez, Caravaggio and Rubens. What truly makes Vienna stand out in the art world, however, is the legacy left by the artists of the late 19th, and early 20th century, who lived in what was then the most modern city on earth. Art nouveau artists such as Gustave Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka pioneered the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, or the total work of art, which was designed to encompass every aspect of life, from architecture to cutlery, furniture to landscaping. Their legacy and works can be seen at exhibition spaces such as the recently built Leopold Museum, while many of the best sculptures, friezes and prints from this period are housed in the decadent Secession Hall, a shrine to Jugendstil art that is topped with a delicate dome of gold leaf.

Beijing

798 Art Zone Beijing
(798 Art Zone, Beijing, image from Wikipedia)

If Vienna announced the birth of the 20th century through its radical and pioneering art, then China’s capital Beijing may be the 21st century equivalent. This sprawling, polluted metropolis is home to sleek new art districts such as the 798 Art Zone, located in a disused military factory, and hip exhibition spaces such as the Come and Go Center, housed in a renovated hutong. Many of the artists who make Beijing their home have a complicated, and often frosty, relationship with the ruling powers based in this bureaucratic town. Conceptual artist Ai Wiewie, who rocketed to fame after depositing one hundred million hand-crafted porcelain sunflower seeds onto the floor of London’s Tate Modern in 2010, was jailed in April 2011 after criticising government policies on democracy and human rights. Yet despite the difficulties China’s new generation of cutting edge artists strive to make this the new art capital of the world.

Los Angeles

Getty Center Los Angeles
(Getty Center, Los Angeles, image by brewbooks on Flickr)

Though Los Angeles does not have the tradition of the other cities on this list, and was a relative latecomer to the art scene, a series of philanthrophists and their art galleries have turned a city more famous for light entertainment into an artistic heavyweight. John Paul Getty kicked it all off with the establishment of the Getty Museum, a shimmering white citadel perched high above the 405 freeway in Brentwood, and designed by acclaimed architect Richard Meier. Getty donated tens of thousands of works to the gallery, and also left the complex an endowment of more than $750 dollars in 1976 so that it could continue to exist long into the future as a centre for art exhibitions, research and restoration. The Getty is visited by almost 1.5 million visitors each year, who come to gaze upon works by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Titian and Rembrandt. Other major galleries in L.A. include the Norton Simon in Pasadena, the Armand Hammer in Westwood, and MOCA near downtown. Los Angeles also has a thriving grassroots art scene, with outsider art projects like the Watts Towers achieving worldwide fame, and a thriving Downtown Art Walk that attracts over 30,000 art lovers each month.

Next time you want to book an art holiday, try out these art capitals for world class art with a twist.

Date posted: 12th September, 2011

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