Travel Guides to Contemporary Art – From art world favorites to private collections

If you haven’t yet planned a summer trip, want to get an early start for next year, or are simply an armchair traveler, several guides focused on contemporary art may prove useful. They are also entertaining and certain to add locations to your art world map, no matter how detailed it is already. The stand out, and by far the broadest is:

Amy Dempsey Destination Art (Berkeley, University of California Press: 2006) ISBN 0-520-25025-7

Destination Art

Don’t be fooled by the image of Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels on the book’s cover. This is much more than a listing of land art projects. Dempsey is remarkably catholic in the two hundred  sites she selected as well as international in scope, even if the sites in Asia and Africa are slight. She has a significant interest in the work of outsiders, whose reputations have barely traveled beyond their own continents, including The Rock Garden at Chandigarh, built by a roads inspector, Nek Chand, and Le Jardin de Nous Deux, an architectural fantasy constructed by a retired corset-maker in Civrieux d’Azergues as well as Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers and Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens.

Detail of ‘The Rock Garden,’ Chandigarh, India
Detail of ‘The Rock Garden,’ Chandigarh, India

Dempsey includes a handful of notable architectural sites, among them Gerrit Rietveld’s Rietveld Schroder House in Utrecht (been there, and it’s absolutely worth the trip!), Frank Ghery’s Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas and the Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima, Japan, designed by Tadao Ando specifically to house five paintings by Claude Monet, an installation by Walter de Maria and three works by James Turrell.

Monet ‘Water Lilies’ at Tadeo Ando’s Chichu Art Museum, Naoshima, Japan
Monet ‘Water Lilies’ at Tadeo Ando’s Chichu Art Museum, Naoshima, Japan

What other guide would cover the range from Agnes Denis’ Tree Mountain, a huge earthwork intended to recuperate a damaged landscape in Pinsio, Finland and Antonio Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona to Gutzon Borglum’s carved presidential portraits at Mount Rushmore and Seward Johnson’s The Awakening, an image of a giant emerging from the banks of the Potamic in Washington, D.C.?

Agnes Denis ‘Tree Mountain – A Living Time Capsule’ winter view in 2003
Agnes Denegnes deness ‘Tree Mountain – A Living Time Capsule’ winter view in 2003

I’ve long hoped to visit Targu-Jiu, to see Brancusi’s work, and Marfa for Donald Judd, et al, but Dempsey’s book has suggested some other intriguing sites for my wish list: Szoborpark in Budapest, an outdoor museum of  statues and monuments of Communist Hungary, established in 1993, the same year that Komar and Melamid held an open call for proposals of what to do with Russia’s many Lenin and Stalin monuments; the Junkerhouse, Lemgo, Germany, a building decorated inside and out by a schizophrenic architect, Karl Junker (1850-1912); Dan Flavin’s light installation at the Chiesa Rosa, a church by the Novecento architect Giocanni Muzio, on the outskirts of Milan; and the A13 Artscape, six kilometers of a highway conceived as a linear park, it includes earthworks, lighting installations, sculpture, and landscape elements along, through and around the roadway.

Anu Patel, Charleton Crescent Subway (a pedestrian underpass), part of A13 Artscape, courtesy Borough of Barking and Dagenham
Anu Patel, Charleton Crescent Subway (a pedestrian underpass), part of A13 Artscape, courtesy Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Destination Art is extensively illustrated in full color, and although a paperback, it is properly bound with stitched signatures, so will hold up to the repeated readings it is sure to receive. There is practical information for each site (likely superseded by what’s available on-line), and three indices: one of people, another of places, and a third of sites. This should be on the bookshelf of everyone interested in contemporary art. You can decide for yourself which sites established since 2006 should be included in a second edition. I imagine the High Line will be at the top of many people’s lists.

Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone ‘Holding Pattern’ part of A13 Artscape
Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone ‘Holding Pattern’ part of  the A13 Artscape


Francesca Cigola Art Parks; A Tour of America’s Sculpture Parks and Gardens (Princeton Architectural Press, New York: 2013) ISBN 978-1-61689-129-9

Detail of Andy Goldsworthy ‘Storm King Wall’  Mountainville, NY photo: Green Sky Design
Detail of Andy Goldsworthy ‘Storm King Wall’ Mountainville, NY photo: Green Sky Design

This guide focuses on a subsection of sites covered by Dempsey, and these have added advantages for those traveling with friends or family with limited interest in art, since each offers plenty of natural attractions as well. This is overwhelmingly a guide for a day in the country, with a few urban asides such as MoMA’s sculpture garden, Chicago’s Millenium Park, Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle and Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, the only one with any aura of urban grit. Quite a number of the parks are attached to museums or universities. I usually think of the later in terms of the academic rather than natural landscape, but a number of them, notably Princeton, do have beautiful surroundings.

Milennium Park, Chicago; Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ in foreground, Frank Ghery’s bandstand behind
Millennium Park, Chicago; Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ in foreground, Frank Ghery’s bandstand behind

The selection of sites is conservative, with a park such as Storm King, which is illustrated on the cover, being the model (the closest European equivalent is the Kroller-Muller Museum, which is included in Destination Art). No outsiders here, or artists’ environments, such as Finster’s or Isiah Zagar’s. It is not at all clear that the author likes more experimental work. The only piece illustrated in the Getty’s sculpture garden is a figurative, bronze sculpture by Giacomo Manzu, and while Robert Irwin is listed among the artists, there is no mention of his extensive garden, which attracted considerably more attention than any other outdoors artwork when the Getty campus opened. 

Margaret Evangeline ‘Gunshot Landscape (2004) The Fields Sculpture, Omi, NY
Margaret Evangeline ‘Gunshot Landscape (2004) The Fields Sculpture, Omi, NY

Art Parks is attractively designed and printed, with multiple, excellent photographs for each park, and it fits comfortably in the hand. Each entry lists the number of artworks, artists’ names, architect and landscape architect (when appropriate) and a published reference, when available. In addition to the fifty-seven featured parks, Cigola includes a secondary list almost as long, with brief descriptions. The book includes maps of sections of the country, with gardens listed for each, a bibliography and index of artists, but not of sites or locations.


BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors; The first global guide to private and publicly accessible collections of contemporary art (Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern: 2012) ISBN 978-3-7757-3259-8

This pocket-sized guide to 173 private collections makes no attempt to seduce readers with visuals. Only a third of the collections are illustrated, and most of those are postage-stamp size.  Still, it is the only guide available to what is primarily a twenty-first century phenomenon: the private museum, open to the public while the collectors are still active. Some of the collections are still in collectors’ homes, and most of those are only accessible to groups that have connections within the art world, such as major museum donors on tours arranged by their home institution. Museum directors lean on their patrons for such favors, expecting them to be reciprocated when they take their supporters elsewhere. There is some precedent for this phenomenon in collections of art by royalty and the aristocracy that were made available to important visitors and to artists, and formed an important part of artists’ education centuries before public museums existed.

OHD Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Magelang, Indonesia
OHD Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Magelang, Indonesia

Most of the collections, however, are in purpose-built, structures.  Some, such as the Menil Collection, are run as proper museums with independent boards. This guide to the .1 percent might contain the outline of a study on the sociology of contemporary art collecting, as well as the impact of tax laws on collecting since at least in the U.S., most of  the American collections are set up as non-profit foundations, hence operate tax free.

Art Stations Foundation, Poznan, Poland
Art Stations Foundation, Poznan, Poland

Each collection has a tag line, usually of a celebratory nature, and a paragraph describing the collection and its display.  The entries include the collectors’ names, usually the same as their collection, although some have more modest or mysterious monikers, such as Dream House in Ichikawa, Japan and Glenstone in Potomac, MD; addresses, websites, and opening hours. The book was co-produced by the car maker, BMW and Independent Collectors, an organization which supports the activities of its more than 5000 members in ninety-five countries, who are allowed to post their collections on-line, and specify who can see them. The guide, which is arranged by country, has indices by city, collection and collectors. It is paperback, but has a proper, stitched binding.

Ramin Salsali in his private museum in Dubai, photo The Artnewspaper
Ramin Salsali in his private museum in Dubai, photo The Artnewspaper

a13 artscape, agnes denes, amy dempsey, andy goldsworthy, anish kapoor, anu patel, architecture, art parks, art stations foundation, chichu art museum, collectors, francesca cigola, frank ghery, graham ellard, guides, indonesia, land art, margaret evangeline, millennium parkl, nancy holt, nek chand, ohd museum of modern and contemporary art, private collection, private museum, ramin salsali, sculpture garden, stephen johnstone, storm king, tadao ando, the fields sculpture park, the rock garden chandigarh, travel guides, tree mountain - a living time capsule

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