Top ten art museums you haven’t been to

If you wanna see inside someone’s brain, stick ’em in an art museum and then leave them there for an hour. Some will feign interest for at least 10 minutes and then start looking for the bathroom. Others will politely wander or become transfixed by a certain wall and never leave, others will head straight to the gift shop to try on silly hats. Big or small, art museums offer the truest personality test on the planet.

Because art is famous and expensive (and sometimes meaningful), the world’s most famous art museums have become iconic travel destinations unto themselves. Cultured people the world over have exhausted the Louvre in Paris, burned hours in the corridors of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, and nodded through Madrid’s Museo del Prado (Tick, tick, tick). There are few things Americans will wait hours in line for, but the Musée d’Orsay‘s French impressionism is right up there with Super Bowl tickets and some mattress outlet’s Midnight Madness sale.

It’s nice to know that art still matters, even when the world’s most well-known museums have become their own top ten of cheesy travel status symbols. But true art lovers need not despair–humans have managed to collect art the world over and many a hidden gem are lying in wait for your art-loving eyes to arrive on the spot.

The following list highlights a selection of some of the world’s best art destinations with the least amount of fanfare. (Disclaimer: Just like any person’s taste in art, this list is entirely subjective). What the following museums share in common are their high-quality collections and their pleasant lack of lines going out the door:

  1. Sarjeant Gallery, (Wanganui, NEW ZEALAND) You don’t expect it in small town New Zealand, but Wanganui is the quintessential art haven, with nearly a dozen galleries, live artists’ studios and stately museums. The Sarjeant collection is the largest and most impressive, well worth a day spent in this expressive riverside hamlet.
  2. Philips Collection, (Washington DC, USA) America’s “First Museum of Modern Art” opened in 1921 and houses a bold collection spanning Van Gogh to O’Keeffe. The intimate Rothko Room represents the first collective public showing of Mark Rothko’s famous multi-form paintings. In museum-heavy Washington, DC, the Phillips often gets overlooked by out-of-town tourists. It’s their loss.
  3. Musée Fabre, (Montpellier, FRANCE) You would expect a far more traditional art gallery in southern France, but the Fabre keeps visitors on their toes with a wonderful 500-year spectrum of art, including one of the world’s greatest collections of 20th Century Fauvist art. Like so much architecture in France, the museum itself is a well-preserved work of art.
  4. National Gallery of Art, (Reykjavik, ICELAND) For a country of just 300,000 people, Iceland has a lot of art museums. The largest of these collections is shown in an elegant old ice factory with several floors of soul-stirring Nordic art. It would take you a week to visit all of Reykjavik’s art galleries, but if you only have a day, this is the one to patronize.
  5. Museum of Latin American Art, (Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA) Oh wow, where to begin in Buenos Aires? There’s so much going on in this city, it’s hard to decide, but MALBA is like the ultimate megaplex of Latin American art, helping you realize how little you actually know about world culture. The museum’s gigantic size and vertigo-inducing design adds a punch of awestruck to your gut, whereas the art on the walls will leave you either with dreamy hallucinations or Borges-type nightmares.
  6. Toledo Museum of Art, (Toledo, Ohio, USA) Born from a private collection of local glass industrialist Edward Drummond Libbey, the Toledo Museum is home to an astounding number of high-profile works by 19th-Century European and American greats. The impressive glass collection adds a unique twist to the visit. (Pssstt: I grew up going to this museum at least once a year, and I still consider it one of the best in the world–right up there with any in Paris.)
  7. Heide Museum of Modern Art, (Bulleen, Victoria, AUSTRALIA) Australians are crazy about art, especially in Melbourne. The “Heide” is just a 15-minute ride outside downtown Melbourne, but that’s apparently too far for most tourists. What they’re missing is a creative collection of old Australian houses set up as galleries, bizarre outdoor installations and some downright funky art. Check it out.
  8. Kharkov Art Museum, (Kharkov, UKRAINE) An appreciation for Soviet art is regaining strength both in Ukraine and abroad. While most visitors hit the capital sights in Kyiv, it’s the industrial city of Kharkov that managed to preserve the country’s rich art heritage, from old Orthodox icons to propagandist block prints, epic oil paintings and tender Ukrainian folk art. Honestly, it’s probably the best art museum in the country.
  9. Winnipeg Art Gallery, (Winnipeg, CANADA) Canadians reign supreme in feelgood art experience and the “WAG” (an unfortunate acronym) is no exception. Manitoban art abounds and aren’t you curious to find out what that is? Housed in a sharp and angled stone triangle, the WAG also boasts the largest collection of Inuit art in the world, something the world-famous Louvre generally lacks.
  10. Guangdong Museum of Art, (Guangzhou, CHINA) Despite all the art that got stolen by foreigners and/or ruined by the Cultural Revolution, there is still some Chinese art left in China. In fact, even as you read this, new Chinese artists are producing new Chinese art . Shanghai and Beijing and Hong Kong are more famous and perhaps more impressive, but the Guangdong in Guangzhou is gaining worldwide notoriety for its fresh repertoire and independent spirit. (Why do the industrial cities get the good stuff?)

OK, I realize there are a lot more wonderful and obscure art museums out there (feel free to add your suggestions in the comments). The point is, when adding art museums to your bucket list, think outside the box. Some of the world’s greatest paintings are not in London or Paris. They’re in Winnipeg or Toledo.

(Photo: Flickr Henry Bloomfield; 2 Dogs)

Winter festivals in the Midwest

What is it about snow that just makes us want to play in it? A fresh, fluffy layer of snow means snow angels and snowmen, building forts and having snowball fights. And for some people, it also means making really, really big snow sculptures like these found on

To see some smaller, but no less impressive, snow sculptures in the Midwest, check out one of the area’s many winter festivals.

In Ohio, the Toledo Zoo Frozentoesen offers a whole month of special winter events at the zoo, including ice carving, free admission days, and animal interactions.

The Madison Winter Festival, which takes place from February 19 to 21 in Wisconsin, goes beyond just spectator sports. In addition to ice and snow sculpting, the event features some pretty hardcore winter sports like cross country skiing, speed skating, 5k races, snowshoeing, and bike racing over snow.

In Michigan, head to Bavarian-themed Frankenmuth for Snowfest. Held January 27 to February 1, the fest features snow and ice sculpting and a huge warming tent with traditional German food, music and drinks. And as someone who has been there I can say that not only is the event a very fun time, but you’d be surprised how quickly a few pints of beer and some really badass snow sculptures can make you forget the bitter cold.

Peace on earth, goodwill toward men: two places where it worked

We hear a lot about peace and friendship over the holidays, but the reality is that different religions and peoples are constantly fighting. It seems we can never get along.

Or at least that’s what the history books would have you believe.

History focuses on change, and change usually means conflict, but there have been many times in the past when different religions and ethnic groups have lived in harmony. Here are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites you can visit that are testimony to the idea that people can achieve great things by working together.

Toledo, Spain

For most of the Middle Ages Spain was not a country; it was a patchwork of different states fighting amongst themselves and staving off invasions by the Muslim Moors from North Africa. There was a centuries-long war between Islam and Christianity, with the Jews being stuck in the middle as second-class citizens in both societies. But under the Caliphate of Córdoba, which ruled much of the Iberian Peninsula in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the three cultures lived and learned together. Córdoba and Toledo were the two main cultural centers. Many books from ancient Greece and Rome, lost in Europe during the Dark Ages but preserved in Arabic translations in the Middle East, were translated into Latin and Hebrew and helped start a rediscovery of Europe’s Classical heritage.
The Christian kingdoms were slowly pushing out the Muslims, however, and in 1085 King Alfonso VI captured Toledo. He realized the relationship among the three cultures, called La Convivencia (“The Coexistence”) was a good thing and kept it going. He even established a translation center to copy books from each culture into Latin, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew, so everyone could benefit from each other’s learning. Philosophy, astronomy, architecture, mathematics, and a dozen other arts and sciences flourished.

%Gallery-80891%It didn’t last. In 1492, when the last Moors were kicked out of Spain, the Jews were kicked out too, and any non-Christian who wanted to stay had to at least pretend to convert. But La Convivencia left an enduring intellectual an artistic legacy for all three cultures and some impressive monuments that can still be seen today.

Gonder, Ethiopia

On a different continent in different century, people came to the same conclusions that the people of Toledo did. In the northwest of what is now Ethiopia is the city of Gonder. It was founded by the Emperor Fasilides around the year 1635. Ethiopian emperors traditionally moved from place to place to watch over their people, but Fasilides saw an advantage to having a capital city for his empire. Soon a large urban center had sprung up, with palaces and castles and places of worship.
Gonder became the center of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but it was also home to Muslims and the Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jews. Artisans and thinkers from all three religions flocked to Gonder to work in the market or palace. The Beta Israel were often craftsmen. Because only a Christian could sit on the throne, the Jews often served as trusted advisers and bodyguards to the emperor. The Muslims, with their connections to the Red Sea and other parts of Africa, set themselves up as merchants.
All three cultures worked together to make Gonder a center of art and learning, just like in Toledo. The ruins of some of the castles and palaces are still visible today and many people call Gonder “Africa’s Camelot”. The most famous monument is Fasilides’ castle, shown here. Check out the gallery for more attractions in Toledo and Gonder.

Let’s not romanticize these civilizations. Neither of them were progressive democracies. They were authoritarian kingdoms where the common people had almost no rights, and both ended up being replaced by less tolerant cultures. Yet they managed to figure out something–it’s not your background that’s important, it’s what you can contribute to society. The people of Toledo and Gonder discovered they could do more together than they could separately. It’s something many societies have realized. In fact, despite all the bad news on TV, religious and ethnic violence is the exception rather than the rule. Most streets aren’t erupting in gunfire. Most people live in towns made up of a number of religious and ethnic groups. They may not be best friends, but they’re not killing each other either.
Maybe Toledo and Gonder have given us more than pair of interesting tourist attractions.

JetAirways is FINE

In an airlines story faux pas, in a post this past Sunday, I inadvertently switched airlines putting Jet Airways as stopping service instead of JetAmerica. Rats! Then Zachary, a faithful Gadling reader, after dragging himself up from the floor after his heart attack from wondering if his trip to Barcelona is not happening after all, had enough energy left to pop me a comment telling me of my GRAVE error. Thanks to Zachary’s quick thinking, the post was updated almost perfectly. I left one Jet Airways in the text. Double rats! (It has since been fixed.)

Yesterday was National Get Out of the Dog House Day. In an attempt to get myself out of the doghouse, here’s a PROFUSE apology to Jet Airways and any reader who may have wondered if it was April Fools Day all over again or if life had been ruined once more by an airlines pulling up stakes. And if Gadling had lost its mind. No Gadling didn’t lose its mind. I did. But my mind has been recovered.

So to recap. Jet Airways is FINE. Jet Airways is FINE. Jet America is possibly regrouping and might fly in the future in some capacity at some location. The people who bought tickets on Jet America in hopes of an inexpensive trip out of Toledo– and a few other locations are to get their money refunded. I suggest they take the refund money and try Greyhound. Greyhound is like the post office. Somehow the package gets delivered and tickets are inexpensive to downright cheap. It may take awhile, but you’ll get where you want to go.

JetAmerica goes bust

That was quick. In less than two months after opening shop for business, Jet Airways JetAmerica has decided it can’t take people from Toledo to points beyond after all. The end of May the airlines had started selling tickets to places like Melbourne, Florida, Lansing, Michigan and South Bend, Indiana with plans to expand to Newark, New Jersey and more. The airlines was to start flying this month.

Unfortunately, the okay for the route to Newark was taking longer than the airlines could withstand, so people are getting refunds. That’s according to what I’ve gathered from this article summarizing the situation in NYC Aviation.

The CEO said that the airlines hasn’t totally bitten the dust and is looking into other possible markets. Regardless, those people counting on Jet Airways JetAmerica cheap seats out of Toledo to Florida this winter are out of luck. If you’ve been to Toledo in the winter, you can see why this is a real shame.

At least the airlines didn’t pull a Skybus stunt by taking them to their destination and leaving them there or ruining honeymoon plans.