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Think you have to go to Europe to see world-class art? YOU DON’T. You can see jaw-droppingly, mega-famous art in the US of A.
In fact, there’s so much great art in the States, it’s nearly impossible to narrow it down to a top 10 — but I did my best. As always with me, I’m not stamping these paintings as the most “important” (although they all are) — but the most famous. These are must-see works even for the NON-art fanatic:
1. American Gothic by Grant Wood (1930) at the Art Institute of Chicago. As long as we are in the US, might as well start with arguably the most recognizable painting in American Art. Parodied almost as often as the Mona Lisa herself, of course this painting is housed in the US. It lives in Chicago, about 300 miles from the actual American Gothic House (the house in the background that inspired the artist’s work).
2. Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (1889) at MOMA. Arguably Van Gogh’s most famous painting resides in New York City. You can also see his Wheat Field with Cypresses at the MET, his Irises at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, portraits at the Detroit Institute of Art and the National Gallery in DC, and The Bedroom at the Art Institute of Chicago.
3. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso (1907) at MOMA. While you’re at MOMA, DO NOT MISS this Picasso masterpiece. One of Picasso’s most famous, it was a seminal work in the development of Cubism. Want another state-side cubist classic? Head to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2).
4. Self-Portrait of Rembrandt (1659) at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Starting to fear you DO have to travel to Europe to see an actual Old Master? Don’t worry about that. There are a whole host of famous Rembrandts in the US, including this iconic portrait in DC — and others at the MET, DIA, Getty, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MFA in Houston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, LACMA, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Frick Collection
5. Woman with a Water Jug by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1662) at the Met. Speaking of Dutch masters, 12 of the 34 paintings firmly attributed to Vermeer reside in the States (11 if you don’t count The Concert, sadly stolen during the 1990 art heist from the Gardner Museum in Boston – but I refuse to give up hope). It’s hard to choose the MOST famous – so I’ve highlighted my personal favorite. The Met holds 4 more Vermeers. The National Gallery and the Frick both have 3. And then there’s that missing one owned by the Gardner…
6. Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol (1962) at MOMA. What would any list of art in America be without a little Warhol. MOMA has an expansive Warhol collection including the cans, Marilyn and Mao. But there’s much more Warhol to be had at many museums including the Guggenheim, MOCA in Los Angeles, and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
7. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat (1886) at the Art Institute of Chicago. This uber-famous pointillist painting was painted in France, but now lives in the US. It inspired the 1980s Sondheim musical, Sunday in the Park with George, and was also featured in the movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. From the stand-point of pop culture fame, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.
8. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (1942) at the Art Institute of Chicago. While you’re in Chicago, DO NOT MISS another all-American classic and one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. This Hopper original has graced the walls of many a 20-something’s first apartment.
9. Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutz (1851) at the Met. If you’re going to see art in America, you must see this classic — one of the most famous representations of the Founding Fathers’ fight for freedom and a symbol of American patriotism. When people think of American art THIS is often what they picture.
10. One: Number 31, 1950 by Jackson Pollock (1950) at MOMA. One of the many wall-sized paintings Pollock created during his frantic summer of 1950, this is one of his “drip” masterpieces. There are many other Pollocks in the US — he was American to the core: born in Wyoming, died in New York. For other Pollocks head to the National Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, the MFA in Boston, MOCA in LA, or the Dallas Museum of Art.
This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. There are Degas, Monets, Botticellis, and Titians in America that I didn’t mention. Here’s the bottom line: there is unbelievable art to see in the US. Don’t overlook it. You don’t have to dig deep or go far to interact with a masterpiece.