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Best Art Museums In The Southwest

By Randy Yagi

Blessed with breathtaking natural beauty, a wealth of outdoor activities and phenomenal dining and lodging, the Southwest clearly has all of the makings for an unforgettable vacation. But while golf may be king in Phoenix, along with the Diamondbacks and Cardinals, and Denver has the Broncos and the Rockies, visitors to the Southwestern U.S. should also not overlook the more traditional cultural activities that are offered in its most popular cities, such as film festivals, live theater performances and of course, art museums. Although it's nearly impossible to name all of the exceptional museums in the Southwest, here are just five of the very best, all of which offer free admission on selected days.

Denver Art Museum

100 W. 14th Parkway
Denver, CO 80204
(720) 865-5000

Monday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Founded in 1893 as the Denver Artists' Club, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) is one of the largest art museums between Chicago and the West Coast. Located in the Civic Center section near the Colorado State Capitol, the Art Museum has more than 70,000 objects in its permanent collection, with approximately 18,000 items in Native Arts Department, which includes the American Indian collection. Of particular interest is the stunning Frederic C. Hamilton building, housing the Modern and Contemporary art, Africa art and Oceanic art collections, as well as a fabulous Asian art collection and individual works of art from several illustrious European artists, including Degas, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Pissarro and Van Gogh. Open seven days a week, the Denver Art Museum offers free general admission on the first Saturday of each month. Suggested lodging in Denver include the Four Seasons, the Ritz-Carlton, the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, the Oxford Hotel and the Crawford Hotel.

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Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
217 Johnson St.
Santa Fe, NM 87501
(505) 946-1000

Monday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Located in the heart of historic Santa Fe, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is among the most popular and most visited attractions in America's oldest state capital. Established in 1997, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is dedicated to its namesake artist, who is often referred to as the "Mother of American modernism" and spent much of her professional life in New Mexico, with her remaining years in Santa Fe. The acclaimed museum possesses the world's largest collection of her works and includes 140 oil paintings, more than 100 watercolors, several photographs, and personal property like watercolor art kits and personal memorabilia. Among the notable works on art on display at the museum are "Ram's Head, "Bella Donna" Blue Morning Glory" and "White & Blue Flower Shapes". Also widely known as the City Different, Santa Fe is home to several phenomenal places to stay, like the Inn of the Governors, El Dorado Hotel and Spa, Hotel Santa Fe and the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado.

Heard Museum
2301 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ  85004
(602) 252-8840

Monday-Saturday: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Established in 1929, the Heard Museum is said to be the country's largest private museum dedicated to the American Indian experience. Featuring more than 130,000 square feet of galleries, classrooms and performance space on a beautiful campus filled with Spanish Colonial architecture, the Heard Museum holds more than 40,000 objects in its permanent collection along with temporary exhibitions on display year roud. Of particular interest at the 12 galleries of this world renowned, non-profit museum is an extensive Native American collection from the Great Southwest region and the Barry Goldwater Collection of historic Hopi kachina dolls, gifted by the late five-term U.S. Senator from Arizona and former 1964 Republican candidate for the President of the U.S. Designated as one of 33 Phoenix Points of Pride, the Heard Museum has several other notable highlights, which includes the Native Peoples in the Southwest exhibit and the extravagant Mareen Allen Nichols collection of contemporary jewelry. Visitors are also encouraged to view the Fine Art Exhibits, which last year presented a magnificent Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit, which displayed 33 masterpieces by the two illustrious Mexican artists. The Phoenix-Scottsdale area is home to some of the greatest hotels and resorts in the Southwest, such as the Fairmont Scottsdale, Boulders Resort and Spa, the Camby, Westin Kierland and Andaz Scottsdale Resort and Spa, among many others.

Museum Of International Folk Art
706 Camino Lejo, on Museum Hill
Santa Fe, NM  87505
(505) 476-1200

Daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Situated atop Santa Fe's popular Museum Hill which hosts three other world-class museums, the Museum of International Folk Art holds the world's largest collection of international folk art. Founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett, this internationally recognized museum features a growing permanent collection of more than 130,000 objects from over 100 countries and an ongoing series of temporary exhibits. One of just a few museums in the country that's dedicated to international folk art, the Museum of International Folk Art has a particularly strong Latin American and Caribbean collection, with more than 40,000 objects, but also features comprehensive exhibits from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, as well as an impressive collection of contemporary Hispano and Latino works of art in the Hispanic Heritage Wing. Other highlights of the museum's holdings are the Founding Collection, the enormous Girard Collection gifted by Alexander and Susan Girard, the Neutrogena Collection from Lloyd E. Cotsen and the Textiles and Dress exhibition. Among the notable temporary exhibitions currently on display are "Crafting Memory: The Art of Community in Peru" through March 10, 2019 and "Artistic Heritage: Syrian Folk Art" through July 29, 2018. Museum Hill, which happens to run along the route of the historic Santa Fe Trail, also is home to the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, in addition to a convenient café and the acclaimed Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

Phoenix Art Museum
1625 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ  85004
(602) 257-1880

Tuesday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Wednesday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Thursday-Friday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 12 p.m.-5 p.m.

Located just a short distance from the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum is the largest art museum in the Southwestern U.S. for visual art. Established in 1959, the museum holds more than 18,000 objects in its permanent collection, including American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American modern and contemporary art and fashion design. The Museum also holds a world-renowned photography exhibition program, a collaboration with the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography, one of the world's finest academic art museums in Tucson and the world's largest institution that documents the history of North American photography. Among the most notable works of art from the Phoenix Art Museum's holding are Louis Ritman's "Flower Garden", Monet's Flowering Arches (Les arceaux fleuris), Frida Kahlo's "The Suicide of Dorothy Hale" (El suicidio de Dorothy Hale) and one of Gilbert Stuart's famous oil paintings of George Washington. Like the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum is another of the 33 Phoenix Points of Pride, which also includes the Arizona Biltmore, Camelback Mountain, Heritage Square and the Pueblo Grande Museum. Lastly, art lovers in Phoenix may also want to visit the Musical Instrument Museum, the city's most popular attraction and the largest museum of its kind in the world.

Related: Best Vacation Destinations For American History Buffs


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