Among the French’s many colloquialisms is the saying “l’art pour l’art.” Directly translated, it means “art for art” — or more specifically, “art for art’s sake.” The saying expresses the belief that art doesn’t need a reason or a function because art itself is inherently valuable.
These cities showcase art’s value through their art museums, which range from renowned international institutions to undiscovered cultural treasures.
Although Paris is known as the “City of Light,” it could easily be known as the “City of Art” — and art museums. Paris is home to dozens of art museums dedicated to historical art, modern art, decorative arts, impressionist art and industrial design. There are museums for the art of perfume, dolls and found objects, and there are museums dedicated solely to the works of greats such as Moreau, Picasso, Rodin and Pasteur.
Most everyone knows about the Louvre, the sprawling, 650,000-square-foot museum where crowds clamor for glimpses of masterpieces such as da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” The Centre Georges Pompidou is a high-tech-looking complex that houses the National Museum of Modern Art, which has 100,000 works of art by 6,400 artists, the world’s second-largest collection of modern art after the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The recently expanded Palais de Tokyo, or Tokyo Palace, is also dedicated to contemporary art and houses the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. Across the street is the city’s fashion museum, the Musée Galliera.
The Carnavalet Museum tells the history of the city through a collection of nearly 480,000 paintings, drawings, engravings, photos and sculptures. The private home of a banking heir and his painter wife was transformed into the Musée Jacquemart-André to showcase the couple’s extensive Italian art collection.
The Clyfford Still Museum is one of the Denver’s quirkiest crowning art achievements. Clyfford Still, an abstract expressionist, was a contemporary of Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko. He was also a recluse who eschewed the art world, stopped regularly showing his work and rarely sold any of his pieces.
After his death in 1980, cities vied to inherit Still’s works by building a permanent space solely to display his pieces, as outlined in Still’s will. Denver won over his widow, and the Clyfford Still Museum opened next to the Denver Art Museum in 2011. There, groups cannot only view Still’s work but also watch as preservationists restore paintings he had tucked away all over his house without ever mounting them.
“These are pieces that art historians have never seen,” said Deborah Park, spokeswoman for Visit Denver. “They’re right there, being worked on.”
The Denver Art Museum’s 70,000-plus pieces span 10 permanent collections, but when featured exhibits open, so do opportunities for groups to make their own art. For the van Gogh exhibit, visitors could paint a small painting; for the Cartier exhibit, they could make jewelry out of everyday objects. The Art Hotel will open next to the museum this summer and will have a public gallery.
On the western edge of Denver’s LoDo neighborhood is the Museum of Contemporary Art, which just wrapped up a major “get” for the museum: the Mark Mothersbaugh exhibit “Myopia.”
With more than 50 museums and exhibiting organizations, Chicago is a museum city. Many of those are dedicated to the arts, and they range from national institutions to tucked-away museums that many Chicagoans don’t even know exist.
The Art Institute of Chicago “is obviously our cultural gem in the city,” said Jason Lesniewicz, cultural tourism manager of neighborhoods for Choose Chicago. The museum’s encyclopedic collection includes more than 300,000 pieces that span all eras, all art movements and all parts of the world. Marc Chagall’s stained-glass exhibit “America Windows” is a favorite, and the institute has an impressive collection of French impressionists.
“Some of our socialites in Chicago started collecting them before they were even popular,” Lesniewicz said.
The museum’s 264,000-square-foot Modern Wing opened in May 2009 with a sky bridge connecting to Millennium Park. Groups can take guided, self-guided or audio tours or choose from 80 themed “mini-tours.” Group lectures and special dining options are also available.
Although Chicago has other major art museums — the Museum of Contemporary Art, for example — it has several hidden gems, including the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art and the National Museum of Mexican Art, whose 7,000-piece collection covers the history of Mexico. Two galleries host special exhibits that run the gamut from fine art to street art.
The Milwaukee Art Museum “really is our Sydney Opera House; it is our St. Louis arch,” said Margaret Casey, communications coordinator for Visit Milwaukee.
The museum’s Quadracci Pavilion opened in 2001 and continues to stun visitors today. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed the soaring white addition to look like a postmodern cathedral, and a hydraulic system opens and closes the building’s wings. The staff does a “flap” at noon to demonstrate the technology to visitors. The museum’s original buildings that house its permanent collections are now closed for renovation but will reopen this fall.
The Quadracci Pavilion is home to temporary exhibits such as “Van Gogh to Pollack: Modern Rebels,” which runs June through September and features works by Dali, Degas, Picasso and Warhol. The Calatrava Café offers views of the lake, and the chef builds his menus around exhibits.
The Grohmann Museum is the only one of its kind in the country, Casey said. Local businessman Eckhart Grohmann donated his “Man at Work” art collection to the Milwaukee School of Engineering as well as funds to open a museum. The collection is dedicated to forms of human work from the 1500s to the present, and galleries are arranged by trade: agriculture, mining, ironwork and more. Bronze sculptures, each a replica of a worker in Grohmann’s collection, ring the rooftop deck. Groups can opt for self-guided or docent-led tours, and lucky visitors may even get to chat with Grohmann, who has an office there.