Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The World's Top Art Museums -- Quality or popularity?

Wondering where the most popular art museums are in the world? TripAdvisor has just compiled its top ten list:
  1. Musee du Louvre, Paris, France
  2. Vatican Museums, Vatican City, Rome, Italy
  3. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
  4. J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles, California
  5. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France
  6. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
  7. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
  8. Tate Modern, London, England
  9. Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
  10. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
How were the competitors chosen? According to the press release, the list was prepared based on traffic to museum web pages on tripadvisor.com. Michele Perry, director of communications for TripAdvisor, claims "This top 10 is a check list to see the very finest artwork in the world."

The list is a good starting point for people looking for a short-list of museums where they can find famous works of art, such as Van Gogh's Starry Night or Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. I confess I could happily spend days in any of these museums. They've become tourist destinations for a reason, after all.

But do they house the "very finest artwork in the world"? Not necessarily.

The nature of any top ten list is that there are always good contenders which don't make the cut. For example, I noticed that all of these museums are in a "Western" country (with four in the U.S. alone), so I wonder what other major galleries and museums from other parts of the world aren't on the list. I'm also curious about the smaller museums and local galleries that don't get the publicity and the popularity, but have the potential to teach me more about local culture and history. Do I want to go to a popular tourist attraction, or a "hidden gem"? (Or both?)

We can't define what is "good art" or any more than we can tell people where and how they should travel. It's a matter of personal preference on both counts. I hope more information and articles will become available on the "hidden gems" in the art world. Take them or leave them, it's nice to have choice.

In the meantime, the official websites of the aforementioned top ten are worth a look. Some even include a virtue tour.

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