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July 18, 2011

America's Best Small Art Museums

© 2011 Yale University Art Gallery/Elizabeth Felicella

For an intimate look at some of the world’s great art, America’s smaller, lesser-known museums provide the ideal setting.

At their best, small museums and private collections provide the kind of viewing experience that big-city museums do not: Visitors can see an entire collection in a short time without collapsing from exhaustion. Focusing on a few works helps the brain remember what it’s seen. Installations tend to be more creative; since small places cannot tell the encyclopedic history of art, they interpret it based on their collections and often blend schools and periods in fascinating ways. I always feel enriched by a visit to a university art museum or a regional collection assembled by a local baron of yore. Taking a detour off the highway during a long road trip, it’s a joy to come upon one of these magical oases. These are my favorites, a selection that covers the history of civilization and the entire country, from coast to coast.