This post was updated by Neesha Kanagarajah on 15/06/2020.
Modern art ranges from Impressionism to Suprematism, and all the abstractions in between. It’s beautiful, ugly, contemplative, meaningless, and sometimes jarringly confrontational – it’s not a one-size-fits-all art movement. If you’re part of the modern art camp, you simply have to visit one of these seven best modern art museums, with some postmodern and contemporary thrown into the mix!
1. MoMA, New York
The world-famous MoMA in New York tops our list of best modern art museums. With the world’s most impressive and comprehensive collection of modern art, it should be on top of your list too!
Visit the MoMA to get a crash course in modern art history – from Magritte to Mondrian, and Bacon to Boccioni, the best of the Modernists can be found here. Just in it for the best modern art paintings in the MoMA? Zoom past the collection and head straight over to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
For more inspiration on what to see at MoMA, check out our MoMA highlights guide to explore one of the world’s premier modern art museums.
2. Centre Pompidou Paris (and Málaga!)
To some, the Centre Pompidou is a beautiful design; to others, the modern and contemporary art center looks like a huge plumbing system. But one thing is certain: if you open your mind to the innovate art inside as much as to the bold exterior design, you will get the most out of your visit to the Centre Pompidou.
The Centre Pompidou Málaga might not be as big as its older sibling in Paris, but it’s every bit as good. Bearing the same name and prestige as what is arguably Europe’s best modern art museum, with a further exploration of the contemporary, it houses artworks from Magritte, Bacon, and Picasso – all the Modernist must-sees.
3. SFMoMA, San Francisco
From the Summer of Love to the first gay rights movement, San Francisco has always been a hotbed for countercultures. This progressiveness explains why the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is so good at bringing innovative and challenging modern and contemporary art to the masses.
One of the most revolutionary painters of the 20th century, Jackson Pollock, held his first big exhibition at the SFMoMA. Today, it’s one of the best modern art museums in America that regularly showcases brilliant and undiscovered talent. Plus, just look at that architecture – it bleeds contemporary!
4. Tate Modern, London
London’s Bankside Power Station is as imposing and iconic as a Rothko painting. That’s why since May 2000, the former power plant has been home to Rothkos, Picassos, Braques, Klees, and the national collection of modern art.
Ranging from British art from the early 1900s to the best of present-day international contemporary art, the museum has by far the best collection of modern art in the UK. And, like most museums in London, much of it is free of admission charge. The Tate Modern only charges a fee for major temporary exhibitions — because, hey, institutionalized art is costly.
5. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
With a collection of high-profile art movements like Piet Mondrian’s De Stijl and Karel Appel’s CoBrA, and a brilliant focus on design and furniture, a visit to the Stedelijk gives you a new perspective on modern art that you won’t find in many other modern art museums.
And it’s not just curious and unusual art styles that you’ll find inside this intriguing building. The Stedelijk Museum has all the important names and defining art movements of the past two centuries on display. See art from the likes of Matisse, Chagall, Kandinsky, and Picasso – delineating everything early modern art movements like Impressionism up to the golden days of Expressionism.
Bonus tip for visiting modern art museums in Amsterdam!
With the two more of the best museums in Amsterdam just minutes away from the Stedelijk, pair your day of exploring modern art with the grandeur of the Dutch Masters – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen, and many others – in the Rijksmuseum. Or, delve further into the branches of the modern art movement and see the most comprehensive collection of Van Gogh at the Van Gogh Museum.
6. mumok, Vienna
Maybe you haven’t heard of Vienna’s modern art museum yet, but you certainly won’t forget the mumok once you’ve been there. The Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation (mumok) is dedicated to a very unusual type of art: Actionism.
Also known as Viennese Actionism, this short-lived movement produced some of the most violent and in-your-face art of the 20th century. Visit the Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation to get blown away by the works of avant-garde Austrian artists who were fed up with commodifiable art and the high materialism of Viennese society of the 1960s and 1970s.
7. Reina Sofia, Madrid
If you haven’t been to the Reina Sofia yet, let this word sink in: Guernica. Picasso’s masterpiece is one of the most powerful artworks of the 20th century – not only because of its immense size but also because of its statement against the Spanish civil war, as told through the depiction of the obliterated town of Guernica in the Basque Country.
The Reina Sofia is widely considered one of the best modern art museums in the world. It is also conveniently located in Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art, which is home to some of the most popular museums in Spain including the Thyssen-Bornemisza and del Prado.