On my most recent trip to Europe, I realized that a few art museums have profoundly affected the way I see the world. These museums showed me something new and unexpected; they shifted my perspective. And isn’t that what we want? Experiences that not only make us think and feel, but that change us. Forever?
Here’s my list of the top 12 art museums that will alter the way you see the world — and if that isn’t a reason to visit, I don’t know what is.
1: Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, California
Every time I visit the Annenberg, my perspective shifts. The Annenberg houses rotating photography exhibits on everything from climate change to beauty. In this space, I have empathized with people I’ve never met, wept over the delicacy of our planet, and even developed an appreciation for fashion. Warning: if you are happy with the way you see the world, do NOT visit the Annenberg. If you’re ready for a change, don’t miss it.
2: Vasa Museet in Stockholm, Sweden
The Vasa — a 17th century Swedish warship — set sail on its maiden voyage in 1628, but only made it 1300 meters before sinking in Stockholm Harbor. For 333 years, it sat — preserved in the icy Scandinavian waters — on the ocean floor before archeologists recovered it in 1961. Just one of the many lessons from the Vasa: If such an expensive ship ordered by a king can sink moments after setting sail, even the grandest plans can spectacularly fail… But any failure can also be resurrected to greatness. So why not take Vasa-sized risks? Sure you may fail, but you never know where that failure will lead.
3: The Sistine Chapel at Vatican Museums in Vatican City, Italy
This one may be a bit expected, cliche even, but looking up at Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling will change your perspective on life, death, art, God… You will walk away with a new appreciation for what is possible — both on a divine and human level. Michelangelo painted the ceiling when he was in his 30s, and then in his 60s, returned to paint The Last Judgment on the altar wall. Seeing what was possible for Michelangelo — at any age — may just change your estimation for what is possible for you.
4: Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa) in Wellington, New Zealand
Part national museum, part art museum, Te Papa introduces visitors to the unique culture of New Zealand. But maybe more importantly, it will change your perspective of what a museum should be — it’s the most innovative, interactive museum I’ve ever visited. Exhibits don’t just teach; they pull you into another world of geological wonders, Maori history, and Kiwi art. After a trip here, you will expect more from any museum you visit, and you will never get Te Papa out of your heart.
5: Palace of Versailles outside of Paris, France
The first time I visited Versailles, I didn’t think it would be anything special; I was wrong. Versailles, the French palace expanded under Louis XIV and stormed during the revolution, is one of the most mind-blowing places I’ve ever visited. The opulence, grandeur and, yes, jaw-dropping beauty will change the way you see royalty. You will have a new understanding of why some people have a desperate desire to gain even a hint of such wealth and power, and how that power could make anyone a little crazy.
6: Terracotta Army in Xi’an, China
An army of 8,000 terra cotta warriors, horses, and chariots armed with over 40,000 bronze weapons… all gathered to protect 3rd century BCE Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang as he marched into the afterlife. 40 years after its discovery (a Chinese farmer stumbled upon the tomb in 1974), only 1% has been excavated; what we see is only the beginning… And it was all buried for 2,300 years. Staring out over that massive mausoleum, you can’t help but see this world — and the next — in a new way: what else can’t we see? What else is buried out there? How much of this world — and the next — is waiting to be discovered?
7: Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
“But Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists of all time,” you say. “How can seeing his works change anyone’s perspective? We’re too familiar with him!” But the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam does change you — here, you get to enter the mind of the great artist who saw the world so differently than the rest of us. In this museum, you see the world as Vincent did: full of color, drama, and emotional connection… and that is a new perspective I cherish.
8: Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England
The V&A is like the Annenberg: every time I go, my world view is rocked. I think it’s because the museum houses such an eclectic mix of art and design… Consider their current schedule: an exhibition on shoes (“Pleasure and Pain”), a tour of Medieval Art, a class on theaters in 16th century London… Juxtaposing those different eras and styles forces you to see each differently. Plus, like the Annenberg, the V&A also does an amazing job of putting on innovative exhibits that challenge every world view.
9: Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, New York
Moving images surround us at every moment of every day, but how often do we stop down to consider how moving images impact our history, minds, and culture — and why cats are so darned popular on the internet? A visit to this museum will change the way you see nearly every moment of your day — you’ll never see a movie, TV show, or viral video the same way ever again. And that means, you’ll never see your life the same way either.
10: Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California
Much like Versailles, I thought a trip to Hearst Castle would be underwhelming… Also like Versailles, I was wrong. This house of the newspaper mogul and Hollywood-schmoozer William Randolph Hearst is arguably the most outlandish, extravagant place I’ve ever visited. Just as Versailles may change your perspective on royalty, Hearst Castle will change the way you see Hollywood — it’s a fantastic, larger-than-life world that seems great on the outside, but when you step in, it quickly becomes overwhelming, a little weird, and wholly unnerving…
11: Ricardo Brennand Institute in Recife, Brazil
A review of this museum on Trip Advisor reads, “Like Alice in Wonderland, I felt like I had been dropped into a different world …” And what better way to change your world view than a trip to Wonderland? Not only does it have an expansive collection of Medieval armory and Colonial art, but the grounds are a wonderland for kids and adults alike. A trip here may change the way you see yourself: perhaps you never knew you cared about Medieval warfare or Brazilian landscape before a visit to the Ricardo…
12: Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres, Spain
I have to close this list with a trip to the Dali Museum in the artist’s hometown of Figueres, Spain. Dali — bringing together the world of dream and reality — wanted to change the way you saw the world; he wanted to mess with your perspective… and this museum achieves just that. His most famous works (like The Persistence of Memory) are NOT at this museum, but his POV is… everything is strange, weird, off-kilter… Just as Dali would’ve liked it.
Which art museums have changed YOUR perspective?