Visiting the world’s great cities gives you an opportunity to sample their cuisine – but also to enjoy stunning displays of art in galleries and on street corners. For our list of top destinations for art lovers, we’ve left off some of the usual suspects (such as Paris, France and Florence, Italy). Not because they’re not worth a visit – they absolutely are – but because we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the world’s other great treasure houses of old and new art. If you’re a culture vulture, read on!
Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City’s art scene is expanding beyond the legacy of Frida Kahlo, who once lived there and is still Mexico’s most famous artist. The eclectic collection of her work in the Casa Azul in Coyoacan still draws large crowds daily – expect to queue. Today the city has a thriving arts scene, helping to propel it up published lists of must-visit cities. It seems that everywhere you look, new art spaces are popping up – sometimes in the unlikeliest of places, such as formerly derelict warehouses. A notable all-new gallery is the Museo Soumaya, shaped like a giant shiny hourglass and displaying works from the collection of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Factor in imaginative new architecture and Aztec relics and Mexico City has something for every art lover.
Beijing’s art scene reflects China’s recent history: years of relative seclusion followed by the current period of being much more open to the rest of the world. Just as China has begun to flex its economic muscles, the city’s artists have been reveling in the opportunity to engage and collaborate with artists from around the globe. Heretical vase-dropper Ai Weiwei has spearheaded Chinese art’s international expansion; to get to the source, you need to head to the famous 798 Art District (or Dashanzi). This melting pot of modern art symbolizes China’s transformation: housed in a communist-era ex-military factory is a fascinating mishmash of galleries, shops, studios and performance spaces. It’s the perfect place to start your art lover’s tour of Beijing.
Berliners have long had a quirky, almost subversive way of seeing the world, and this, combined with cheap spaces to rent in former East Berlin has made the city a hotbed of both politics and art. The most famous Berlin street art is the graffiti on the slabs of the Berlin Wall in Mauerpark – proof that Berliners have never been afraid to have their say with a spray can. The Wall is not the only symbol of the city’s turbulent past that has been co-opted by artists – even Nazi bunkers have been turned into display areas for art. And that’s before we even mention some of Berlin’s world-class museums which are stocked with centuries of international art, such as the Hamburger Bahnhof (great for pop art) or the Akademie der Künste.
Situated on the Rhine, and not far from the French and German borders, Basel has long been a crossroads for travelers and artists and is known as Switzerland’s cultural capital. One of Basel’s main attractions for art lovers is the fact that many sculptures by leading artists (including Picasso) are on display along the banks of the river and in parks and gardens throughout the city. You should also make time during your stay to check out the permanent displays and major exhibitions at the Fondation Beyeler. Perhaps our favorite aspect of the art scene in Basel is the chance to combine viewing major artworks with a meal or a cocktail: our top picks would be dinner at Chez Donati or lunch at the Berower Park restaurant. For a quirkier alternative, look up the Cargo Bar in Grossbasel.
With its sunny climate and relaxed vibe, it’s perhaps no wonder that many of Melbourne’s artworks happen – and are displayed – outdoors. Yes, you’ve arrived in one of the world’s urban art capitals, but before you hit the streets for relief, pop into the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) – its rust-red exterior might remind you of another famous Australian landmark: Uluru, or Ayers Rock. Melbourne is a graffiti fan’s dream – it’s easy and cheap to get around the city to enjoy its ever-changing wall art (we’re talking walking, trams and free shuttles), and the city authorities actively encourage artists to decorate some of the buildings. We’d recommend a trip down Hosier Lane, a designated ‘graffiti tolerance zone’ or a visit to the Blender Studios on a guided walk with a street artist to show you around.
São Paulo, Brazil
You’d expect one of the world’s most populous cities – Sao Paulo has over 20 million residents – to produce its fair share of art, and this Brazilian megalopolis won’t disappoint – it’s home to South American’s hottest art scene. To get your bearings, begin at the Pinacoteca do Estado in Jardim da Luz which contains a comprehensive collection representing the last few centuries of Brazilian art, or any of the alphabet soup of other great galleries: MASP, MAC, and MAM. Between now you see it, now you don’t graffiti and the timeless architecture of local genius Oscar Niemeyer, exploring Sao Paulo can be incredibly rewarding for art lovers. And if you want to meet Brazilian artists and watch them at work, we recommend a day trip to the delightful Embu das Artes, an artists’ community of colorful houses just outside the city.
To put yourself in the frame for an art lover’s trip to any of these cities, contact us today.