Top 25 Big Cities for Art

June 2012 | BY | Issue 80, Summer 2012

The top 25 big cities for art for 2012 are:

1. New York City

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), upper right at top, is perfectly situated on Columbus Circle to draw the crowds. Credit: Alex Lopez

Lots of people want to be part of the New York art scene, and what a lot of it there is—from the River to River Festival downtown, to MAD in midtown and straight north to the uptown Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Every June and July, the River to River Festival brings visual art, theater, music and dance to public venues throughout Lower Manhattan. This free arts extravaganza was launched in 2002 to revitalize the area and has become a cultural institution, bringing in more than 100,000 visitors annually. The festival is dedicated to New York artists and art groups, as well as those who have found their inspiration in the city. The South Street Seaport Museum is also open again, so while you’re in the neighborhood, stop by to check out its updated, re-envisioned and expanded gallery space.

The Costume Institute at the Met exhibits the work of iconic Italian fashion designers Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli through Aug. 19, while Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno takes over the museum’s roof with “Cloud City,” large transparent reflective modules that visitors can actually walk through. On Columbus Circle, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) shows the work of jewelry pioneer Margaret De Patta, while on Lincoln Square, the American Folk Art Museum exhibits important artists in its collection with “Jubilation/Rumination.” At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), “Born out of Necessity” explores design as a problem-solving tool.

And don’t miss Chelsea, the arts district where you can visit dozens of galleries from 14th to 30th Streets and from 6th Avenue to the Hudson River, showcasing everything from modernist works and abstracts to art quilts, ceramics and glass.

2. Washington, D.C.

Imposing columns signal the unique art inside the connected spaces of the Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum.

Feel free to explore the art scene in the nation’s capital, because much of it really is free. The Smithsonian Institution alone offers open admission to all of its 19 museums and galleries, including the American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens, and the Renwick Gallery, which starting on July 20 investigates evolving notions of craft in “40 Under 40: Craft Futures,” with work by 40 artists, all born since 1972, the year the gallery was established.

The American Art Museum offers “African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond” through Sept. 3, with works by 43 black artists including Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and Lois Mailou Jones. And around the corner, the Portrait Gallery opens “One Life: Amelia Earhart” on June 29, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the famed aviator’s disappearance and focusing on her commitment to women’s rights.

Always free is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, running June 27-July 1 and again July 4-8. It takes over the National Mall, and includes artists, performers, craftspeople, storytellers and musicians from around the world. Go on July 4 and you can also watch the spectacular holiday fireworks display over the Washington Monument.

3. Chicago

There’s no better place to be during Chicago summers than frolicking in front of Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain in Millennium Park. CREDIT: Patrick Pyszka

Long on the cutting edge of culture, from the skyscrapers of America’s first truly modern architect Louis Sullivan to the sculpture and exhibitions at Millennium Park, Chicago is everyone’s kind of town.

The Windy City is also festival central, especially in summer, when you can find fairs, food and art in the streets almost every weekend. (Visit for events, times and places.) You can also get an insider’s view of participating galleries and studios on the second Friday of every month in the Chicago Arts District.

A lot of Chicago’s art is free for the viewing, including Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, Jean Dubuffet’s “Monument with Standing Beast” at Thompson Center, and Marc Chagall’s enormous “Four Seasons” mural at Chase Plaza.

The Art Institute of Chicago is showing 130 works by Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein through Sept. 3, and through Aug. 19, the Museum of Contemporary Art presents “First Fifty,” the first 50 objects collected by the museum since its founding, including works by Enrico Baj, Alexander Calder and Chuck Close.

4. San Francisco, Calif.
5. Boston, Mass.
6. Philadelphia, Pa.
7. Albuquerque, N.M.
8. Seattle, Wash.
9. Austin, Texas
10. Baltimore, Md.
11. Los Angeles, Calif.
12. Portland, Ore.
13. Columbus, Ohio
14. Denver, Colo.
15. Jacksonville, Fla.
16. Nashville, Tenn.
17. San Diego, Calif.
18. Charlotte, N.C.
19. Dallas, Texas
20. Las Vegas, Nev.
21. San Antonio, Texas
22. Houston, Texas
23. Louisville, Ky.
24. Tucson, Ariz.
25. Phoenix, Ariz.

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