The United States is home to several notable museums that are dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the artistic works of both domestic and international artists from the present and past. Currently, there are over 35,000 museums in America, which is quite impressive even for a country with a storied past like the United States. Considering this number, it is not easy to visit all of them, but you can prioritize the ones with a large collection of artworks.
In today’s list, we are going to take you on an interesting tour of the largest museums in the United States, some of which are featured in our post about the largest museums in the world.
Biggest Museums In the USA
Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York | 58,820 m2
In 1866, a number of Americans visited Paris and witnessed how the city brings art and art education to the people, so they decided that the Americans needed a “national institution and gallery of art.” They went and collected some of the rarest works of arts and artifacts, and that is how the Metropolitan Museum of Art came to be.
Located adjacent to Central Park in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) is the largest museum in the United States and one of the largest museums in the world, with more than 2 million artworks in its permanent collection, including pieces from Africa, Europe, Asia, as well as the Middle East.
Despite its vast space, the museum is still expanding and in 2016, it transformed its Whitney space into a gallery called Met Breuer dedicated to only contemporary art. Moreover, the Met is in the other two locations – the Met Cloisters and the Met Fifth Ave.
Houston Museum of Fine Arts | Houston | 28,000 m2
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is located in the Houston Museum District Houston. It is one of the largest museums in America and houses more than 70,000 works from Asia, Europe, Australia, Americas, and Africa
It was established in 1900 to benefit the Houston district through various publications, programs, and media presentations. More than a million people benefit from the museum’s programs, resource centers, and workshops each year and another half a million take part in the community outreach programs.
The largest part of the collection at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts is on the fields of French Impressionism, Italian Renaissance painting, photography, African and pre-Columbian gold, American and European decorative arts, post world war American and European painting and sculpture, and American art.
The museum is also opened a new branch in November 2020, which was constructed to the tune of $385 million, in order to house its growing collections of contemporary and modern art.
Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago | 26,000 m2
With more than 300,000 artifacts and pieces of art, the Art Institute of Chicago ranks among the world’s greatest museums. The museum is also located at an enviable location, in Millennium Park.
Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago covers the span of human’s affinity with art, starting with ancients to pieces and ending with modern collections.
Founded in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is not only one of the largest museums in the USA, it also one of the oldest. It is popular among visitors too, welcoming more than 1.5 million people each year.
Its collection is scattered in 11 curatorial departments, featuring iconic works such as The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso, American Gothic by Grant Wood, and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.
Since it is a research institution, the museum also boasts a conservation and conservation science department, the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, and fire conservation laboratories.
National Gallery of Art | Washington D.C. | 25,200 m2
The National Gallery of Art is located near the U.S Capitol Hill and was established in 1937. The first pieces at the museum included a donation from a patron’s private collection. The patron, Andrew W. Mellon also used his own money to build the museum with support from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
But today there are a wide collection of artifacts and pieces covering American and European art including pieces by the likes of Degas, Henry, and Monet.
It is structured into east and west wings. The west wing contains the American and European Collections, notably the Kress collections including an array of Italian artworks; while the east wing contains predominantly modern and contemporary art as well as special exhibition space.
The halls of the gallery depict the pieces that are on show. For example, the Italian Renaissance exhibitions are adorned with plaster walls and an Italian-inspired travertine wainscot.
The original works donated by Andrew Mellon included a collection of 26 sculptures and 126 paintings.
MASS MoCA | North Adams | 23,225 m2
The Mass MoCA or the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is a museum located in a former Arnold Print Works plant building in the small city of North Adams in Massachusetts. Before the museum, the perimeters used to be a factory operated by the Arnold Print Works from 1860 to 1942, and then the Sprague Electric company before it was converted into a museum.
Initially, the MASS MoCA opened 19 galleries and 9,300 m2 space in 1999, but it was later expanded less than ten years to include Building 7 and in 2017, there was an additional floor space when Building 6 was opened.
This museum is not only about housing galleries and performing arts spaces; it also rents space for commercial use. For instance, Bang on a Can Sumer Institute is located within the complex. It is where performers and composers from across the world come and create their new music.
MASS MoCA is among the most important art museums in northern Berkshires, along with the Williams College Museum of Art and the Clark Art Institute.
Museum of Fine Arts | Boston | 20,500 m2
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston houses the second-largest collection of art in the United State. It also has more works by Monet than any other gallery outside Paris.
Even though it focuses mainly on American and European art, this museum is also home to a wide range of pieces from across the world, especially Ancient Egypt.
In total, there are over 450 pieces of art at the museum.
Because Boston is a twin city of Nagoya, the Museum of Fine Arts also features the most extensive collection of Japanese pottery and art outside Japan.
MFA or MFA Boston, as it is often abbreviated is the 14th largest art museum on the planet and 52nd most visited in the world with more than 1.2 million visitors each year.
It was originally located in Copley Square but relocated to its current Fenway location in 1909.
Minneapolis Institute of Art | Minneapolis | 17,500 m2
Located in the city of Minneapolis in Minnesota, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) is home to more than 90,000 pieces of art that represent more than 5,000 years of world history. Some of its permanent collection includes artworks that embody the highest levels of artistic achievement, spanning at least 20,000 years and representing the diverse cultures across the globe.
The museum is divided into size curatorial regions – Decorative Arts; Paintings; Textiles & Sculpture; Photography and New Media; Arts of Africa & the Americas; Prints and Drawings; and Contemporary Art.
Over half a million people visit this museum every year and hundreds of thousands are reached via the Art Adventure program for elementary school children.
Its free general admission policy as well as top-of-the-line interactive media programs and classes for both adults and children is what makes Mia resonate well with the community it serves.
Birmingham Museum of Art | Birmingham | 17,000 m2
The Birmingham Museum of Art was established in 1951 in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. With over 24,000 paintings and thousands of prints, sculptures, decorative arts, and sculptures representing diverse cultures from Africa, Pre-Columbia, Asia, America, Native America, and Asia, this museum is the most important and most visited in the Southeastern United States.
Some of its permanent collection included Asian art, which is thought to be the finest and most extensive in the whole of Southeast region; and Vietnamese ceramics, which are also considered among the finest in the United States.
The Birmingham Museum of Art also houses some of the most incredible collections of Kress and Baroque paintings, decorative arts, and sculpture.
Occupying 3.9 acres, the museum is located in the center of the city’s cultural district. The museum is owned by the city of Birmingham.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art | San Francisco | 15,800 m2
Abbreviated as SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a non-profit gallery space located in the Californian city of San Francisco. It houses a collection from across the globes and was the first gallery from the West Coast to dedicate its space exclusively to 20th-century art.
Today SFMOMA is home to more than 33,000 murals, photography, sculpture, design, and architecture as well as media arts. All these pieces are displayed in a 15, 800 m2 exhibition space, making it among the top ten largest museums in the United States, and one of the biggest in the world in terms of contemporary and modern art.
This museum was established in 1935 but closed in 2013 for major renovation and expansion. After reopening in 2016, its space had more than doubled and offered six-folds much public space compared to the previous building.
SFMOMA has been used by numerous artists to stage their first museum exhibitions in the past, including the famous Jackson Pollock as well as Arshile Gorky and Clyfford Still.
Museum of Modern Art | New York | 15,400 m2
New York City is home to a number of great museums, but MoMA New York is the second-largest museum in the city after the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Situated in Midtown Manhattan on the 53red Street, sandwiched between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue, the Museum of Modern Art is known for developing and collecting modern and contemporary art and is considered one of the most significant modern art museums in the world.
Its comprehensive collection of art offers a summary of contemporary and modern art, including the works in the field of architecture and design; sculpture, painting, photography, drawing, prints, artist’s books, illustrated books, electronic media, and film.
The library section of the museum holds more than 300,000 books and exhibition catalogs, over 1,000 periodical titles, as well as over 40,000 files of ephemera on specific artists and groups. The museum’s archive features primary source materials about the history of contemporary and modern art.
Denver Art Museum | Denver | 15,000 m2
DAM is a museum of art located in Denver’s Civic Center in Colorado. It is one of the biggest museum galleries between Chicago and the West Coast. The Denver Art Museum houses a wide range collection of American Indian art as well as more than 70,000 diverse works from other continents.
It is believed that the Denver Museum was opened around the 1890s, and since then, it has been expanded many times to reach the size that it is today.
The latest expansion took place in 2006 after the Frederic C. Hamilton Building was added to the complex. The new building is where the museum’s African Art and Oceanic Art, Modern and Contemporary Art, and Western American art collection are located. The Hamilton Building also serves as the main entrance to the rest of the complex.
Dia Beacon | Beacon, New York | 14,900 m2
Dia Beacon was established in 2003 to house a collection of art pieces from the 1960s to the modern-day. The museum is located along the Hudson River in the city of Beacon in New York State and was installed in a former Nabisco box printing facility.
It also provides temporary exhibitions in addition to permanent exhibitions, as well as public programs aim to complement the exhibitions and collections, including Gallery Talks, Community Free days for nearby counties, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and education programs designed to benefit students from the communities around the museum.
With 14,900 square meters, Dia Beacon is one of the largest art museums in the United States for contemporary and modern art.
Dallas Museum of Art | Dallas | 14,800 m2
Located in Arts District in downtown Dallas, DMA or Dallas Museum of Art was established in 1903 after the opening of the Dallas Art Association. Today, DMA is a central landmark in the energetic Dallas Arts District, welcoming over 650,000 visitors every year that come to peruse the more than 22, 0000 pieces of works covering over 5,000 years.
The collection includes but is not limited to, Asian Art, African Art, American Art, Ancient Mediterranean Art, Contemporary Art, Pre-Columbian & Pacific Rim, European Art, and Decorative Arts and Design.
Besides providing exhibition space, the Dallas Museum of Art also participates in community events such as Thursday Night Live, Late Nights, and Arts & Letters.
Detroit Institute of Arts | Detroit | 14,000 m2
Located in Midtown Detroit, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) was founded in 1885, and thus it is one of the oldest art museums in the United States. With more than 100 galleries, it spans 658,000 square feet after the 2007 major renovation and expansion that added another 58,000 square feet to the original complex.
The museum’s collections are considered to in the top six museums in the U.S with an encyclopedic collection the provides an overview of European and Ancient Egyptian works in addition to other pieces from across the globe.
DIA’s art collection is also among the most expensive, with a valuation of more than $8 billion. Its building is highly regarded among the architect community.
Indianapolis Museum of Art | Indianapolis | 12,500 m2
This encyclopedic art museum is located in the city of Indianapolis in the state of Indiana. The museum features exhibitions, tours, classes, and events. Initially, the entire complex used to be called the Indianapolis Museum of Art, but it was later renamed ‘Newfields’ in order for it to better reflect the extent of the collection and venues.
Today, the Indianapolis Museum of Art refers to the main museum building that serves as the basis of the complex and also the legal name of the organization.
IMA is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States with a permanent collection of more than 54,000 works encompassing American, Asia, African, and European works.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts | Richmond | 12,500 m2
Owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest museums of art in the U.S. Though it is privately owned, donations, funds, and endowments are used for the support of various programs at the museums as well as the acquisition of works and any additional general support.
Admission to the museum is free and it is one of its kind to be run by the state funds. Collections at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are categorized into various broad curatorial departments, including American Art, African Art, Ancient American art, Art Nouveau & Art Deco, East Asian Art, Ancient Art, and European Art among others.
Cleveland Museum of Art | Cleveland | 12,400 m2
Located in the historic Wade Park District, the Cleveland Museum of Art is known worldwide for its extensive collections of Ancient Egyptian and Asian art. The museum is home to a diverse permanent collection of over 61,000 pieces of art from across the globe.
The museum offers free general admission, and despite this, it is the fourth-wealthiest art gallery in the United States with more than $755 endowment.
Also, with approximately 770,000 annual visitors, the Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the most visited museums of art in the world.