Beauty: Art Museums and Their Facades

art museum

The classical Greek philosopher, Plato once said, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” and that statement rings true with art museums and their facades. Some of the world’s art museums are beautiful, not only for the art within them, but also for their stunning architectural facades. These innumerable art museums are not limited to major cities but found in destinations around the world.

One striking museum is the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain that opened in 1997. Located on the Bay of Biscay in northern Spain, this contemporary art museum was designed by the Canadian-American, Frank Gehry.

Known for his use of unconventional materials and innovative structures, Gehry’s proposal included features that incorporated the intrinsic style of the Guggenheim with its Basque region setting. Designed using a combination of glass, limestone and titanium, the building’s atrium gives a nod to  Frank Lloyd Wright’s legendary New York Guggenheim rotunda. New York magazine’s architecture critic, Justin Davidson commented that the museum’s spirit is “essentially Baroque.” The museum’s architectural curved titanium, and the “quality of its forms” is a reinvention of the Baroque style for the contemporary age, according to Davidson.

The picturesque Milwaukee Art Museum is comprised of two buildings and an expanse of exquisite gardens. The earliest building of the two, is the 1957 War Memorial Center, designed by the Finnish-American architect, Eero Saarinen. Modernist in form, its design is representational of a “floating cross, with wings.” Built in steel and concrete, it appears to float on a pedestal. Time magazine described it as one of the nation’s best examples of “modern architecture put to work for civic purposes.”art museums

The second building of the Milwaukee museum, is the Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava who was inspired by Saarinen’s accomplishment.

Completed in 2001, the architectural quality of the pavilion is a flowing, more sculptural structure. It incorporates traditional artisanship with innovative technology. The museum’s grand entrance is the post-modern interpretation of a Gothic cathedral, complete with pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses and a vaulted ceiling. Its floor-to-ceiling windows overlook Lake Michigan. However, its most spectacular attribute is the Burke Brise Soleil with a 217-foot wingspan that forms as a functional sunscreen, moving at set times of the day. Landscape architect, Dan Kiley, created a system of gardens, fountains, as well as a plaza. Known as the Cudahy Garden, the network was meant to integrate the entire museum site as a whole.

In Paris, along the Left Bank of the Seine River, is the attractive Musee d’Orsay. Originally, the site was the Gare d’Orsay railway station and hotel for the 1900 World’s Fair until 1939. During the Second World War, it was used as a mailing center to send packages to prisoners of war. Following the war, the building site was temporarily a film set for Orson Welles. Thereafter, it held a press conference for Charles de Gaulle.

With the threat of demolition looming, a newfound interest in 19th century architecture protected the structure from being knocked down, and finally, in 1986, the former railway station was transformed into the Musee d’Orsay. Preserving Victor Laloux’s architecture, the museum boasts a Beaux-Arts style with stately arches and glass barrel ceiling.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, the magnificent State Hermitage Museum sits on the bank of the Neva River. The majestic green-and-white Baroque palace contains over 3 million works of art and artifacts and houses the largest art collection in Russia. The history of the museum and its buildings is complex, but its Winter Palace was the state residence of the Russian Tsars from the 1760s onward.

The museum was founded in 1764 when Catherine the Great purchased a large collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings from Berlin, Germany. The imposing three-story Winter Palace includes four additional buildings positioned side-by-side along the bank.

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of art museums that are beautiful around the world, including the Graz Art Museum in Austria, the Samsung Art Museum in Seoul, the Soumaya Art Museum in Mexico City, and the Erdos Museum in Inner Mongolia. While art museums house the world’s most precious gems of artistic accomplishments, sometimes an onlooker only has to see its façade to know that the beauty of its architectural design is a merely a reflection of what is to be found within.

By: Dawn Levesque


Guggenheim Bilbao

Milwaukee Art Museum

Musee d’Orsay


The State Hermitage Museum


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.