A contemporary art museum helps us decipher the most profound ideas and issues in the world through the lens of artists. Whether in an exhibition or a permanent collection, every piece displayed is a unique gateway to different identities, societies, and cultures.
So, what is the secret sauce behind a great museum?
Is it location? Is it the architecture? Is it an extensive permanent collection? Is it the curation of the artworks?
All of the above!
In this article, we highlight some of the best contemporary art museums in the world with the most exciting exhibitions for 2024. Our selection of the top 10 lesser-known museums around the world reflect the importance of location and community, contribution of architectural design, breadth and depth of permanent collection, and relevance of temporary exhibitions to the museum’s mission.
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo – Tokyo, Japan
To the East of Tokyo, Japan, located in Kiba Park, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) stands tall with stunning triangular walkways of metal and glass. The first plans for MOT were imagined during the late 1980s. Designed by Takahiko Yanagisawa + TAK Architects, MOT opened in 1995, and has become a center of contemporary art ever since.
MOT inherited many pieces in their collection from the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Materials related to the exhibitions are put on display, available for the public to dive deeper into the collections of both international and Japanese works. In addition, to uphold their mission of education, the museum provides an Art Library with an extensive collection of over 270,000 books, catalogs, and magazines about contemporary art.
Yasuko Toyoshima’s Origination Method exhibition, running through March 10, 2024, uses her areas of expertise and feelings of isolation to reassess and reconsider the frameworks and rules that regulate actions and thoughts. These range from the functions of tools and objects to schooling, business endeavors, and various daily behaviors.
The 19th edition of MOT Annual: Synergies, or between creation and generation is on display through March 3, 2024. A number of group exhibitions centered around the idea of “creation,” as expressed through the creativity and labor of artists, and the generation that naturally emerges, in an attempt to reflect on the present-day situation of NFTs, machine learning, and artificial life.
Museum of Contemporary Art – Sydney, Australia
Located right by the Sydney Harbor, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) resides in the distinctive former Maritime Services Board building built in 1952. In 2012, Sydney architect Sam Marshall redesigned the building expanding the museum by almost 50% in size, including a new five-story wing. The wing brings a stark contrast to the overall structure of the museum, showing a more modern, clean-cut look.
The MCA opened its doors in 1991 with funding from Australian artist John Powe, who left his fortune to the University of Sydney with a mission to educate Australians about international contemporary visual arts. The museum currently houses over 4,000 works of contemporary Australian, Aboriginal, and Torres Strait Islander artists in its permanent collection.
On view through March 3, 2024, acclaimed artist Tacita Dean’s exhibition includes new and recent film works, monumental chalkboard drawings, and photographic and print series. The exhibition captures Dean’s investigations into themes of chance, memory, entropy, history and time.
The MCA Collection: Ten Artists from the Aboriginal Community showcases artwork from many generations’ viewpoints, media, and methods. It will be on display through April 28, 2024. Storytelling, cultural customs, and shared history all lead to commonalities that offer fresh perspectives on the world. From the perspectives, media, and practices across generations. Commonalities emerge through storytelling, cultural traditions, and shared histories, providing new ways to think about the world.
Museum of Contemporary Art – Denver, Colorado
Pinpointed with a bright red heart sculpture pierced with a knife, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (MCA Denver) resides, quite literally, at the heart of Colorado. Founded in 1996, MCA Denver was originally located in a renovated fish market in Sakura Square. After having inherited a land from members of the MCA Denver Board of Trustees, the museum found a permanent home in Denver’s Central Platte Valley in 2003.
Designed by acclaimed architect Sir David Adjaye OBE of Adjaye Associates (UK) and opened in October 2007, MCA Denver is a 27,000 sq ft environmentally sustainable building in Downtown Denver.
MCA Denver focuses on diversity and inclusion, making its collection accessible to all audiences while sparking curiosity and connection through art within its community. The museum hosts engaging activities and discussions led by artists from Denver and beyond.
There are two exhibitions running through May 26, 2024. The Lost Paradise by Ken Gun Min explores one of his main themes in writing, which is the natural world and landscapes. The show, which features large, contemporary paintings, emphasizes Min’s use of imagined and actual landscapes as the main subject or a picturesque backdrop for exploring topics related to race, gender, sexuality, and the experience of being an immigrant.
Meandered by Steven J. Yazzie, showcases current works by Denver-based artist Steven J. Yazzie in the categories of painting, drawing, sculpture, and video. Through personal recollections and immersive experiences, Yazzie revisits locales in the northern section of the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico, frequently reflecting on his evolving connection with and understanding of the terrain.
Running through September 1, 2024, Porras-Kim expands the lines of inquiry into preservation, restoration, and care within the framework of institutions to the larger natural world and daily surroundings for her installation, A Hand in Nature at MCA Denver. For the duration of the show, the sculptures, paintings, and sketches on display will transform, develop, or deteriorate as a result of natural phenomena.
Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Like a flower rooted and blooming, the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum (The MAC Niteroi) overlooks the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Envisioned in 1991 by architect Oscar Niemeyer, this structure was inspired by its location.
Niemeyer felt the space required this rounded shape for completion. With careful calculation, the lightweight concrete structure was completed in 1996, fitting with a vibrant red walkway leading up to its entrance.
The museum is equipped with 3 floors and a lower underground space. The second and third floors are reserved for exhibitions. Under the ground, there is a restaurant, cafe, and auditorium. Windows wrap the 3rd-floor exhibition space, giving you an almost 360° view of Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro, and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Working behind the scenes to develop the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum was a team of passionate creatives and cultural leaders. Inspired by this architecture, the team focused on creating public art spaces.
The museum’s permanent collection includes 1,217 works from João Sattamini, a Brazillian art collector, as well as 369 works from donations by artists who held exhibitions in the museum.
The most recent exhibition was Alan Adi’s, Por ser de Lá, roughly translated as “Because I’m from There” summarizes the visual artist’s most recent work, in which he makes use of allusions to his home country that are closely related to his trips to Rio de Janeiro.
Museum Brandhorst – München, Germany
Structured with a colorful array of over 36,000 ceramic rods, the looks of Museum Brandhorst could be compared to an abstract painting. Designed by the Sauerbruch Hutton Architects in Berlin, the museum’s vibrant facade reflects the colorful art collection inside.
Opening in 2009, the museum stems from the private collection of Anette & Udo Brandhorst, who transferred these pieces to a foundation before the museum’s conception. Since its opening, the Museum Brandhorst has grown almost double in size from 700 to 1200 pieces today and is known for housing the largest Andy Warhol collection in Europe as well as world’s most extensive collection of Cy Twombly.
With a diverse collection of pop art, neo-avant-garde, postmodernism, minimal art and arte povera, the focus of Museum Brandhorst is to create a space for free-thinking and curiosity.
One of the largest collections of American artist Cy Twombly’s artwork is on permanent display. The upper floor display covers a wide range of topics, from Cy Twombly’s earliest creations to his final ones. Twombly’s work is replete with elements such as charged, abstract shapes, painterly movements, and approaches to writing.
Running through July 14, 2024, From Andy Warhol to Kara Walker: Scenes from the Collection juxtaposes modern paintings from the museum collection with contemporary additions. The debate between renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Alex Katz, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as current artists such as Jana Euler, Keith Haring, Louise Lawler, Pope.L, and Kara Walker, exemplifies art’s transformational power.
This is Me, This is You, a photography collection by Eva Felten, is on display through April 7th, 2024. It includes a selection of approximately 140 works from the collection arranged into seven thematic chapters. The exhibition features poignant portraits, popular street and socially significant photography, conceptual pieces, and significant positions of Appropriation Art.
With Flag Commission, which runs until March 15, 2024, Museum Brandhorst shows specially commissioned artworks throughout the Maxvorstadt district, expanding the exhibition’s physical borders.
Kunsthaus Graz – Graz, Austria
Described as the “friendly extraterrestrial” or “sea snail”, The Kunsthaus Graz is an awestriking structure in the urban city of Graz, Austria. This alien-like building was actually built as part of the European Capital of Culture celebration in 2003.
The less institutional approach was achieved by architects Colin Fournier and Sir Peter Cook. The building becomes a huge luminous bubble at night. 930 circular fluorescent 40 W lamps surround the external skin of the building. Each lamp is computer controlled, and can transform the bubble into a mega screen.
The main focus of Kunsthaus Graz is to pioneer unique forms of exhibition through inclusion, diversity, and experiments in digital spaces. They hold a multimedia collection showcasing architecture, design, film, and photography from the 1960s to present.
Space02’s collective exhibition The Other will be showcased until April 3, 2024. The exhibition tackles issues of identity, history, exclusion, and belonging. It also makes an effort to question conventional ideas of limits and makes suggestions for potential future social and political changes.
After almost 20 years, Sol LeWitt’s enormous piece Wall, which debuted as the first solo exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz in 2004, is reactivated. The installation is then recontextualized in conversation with contemporary creative views, with the building process itself being rendered apparent, ending on June 9, 2024.
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – Washington, D.C.
Smithsonian’s contemporary art artery is the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which is located at the heart of the National Mall. Celebrating its fifth decade, the Hirshhorn is a leading voice for contemporary art, and continues to be free to all.
The Hirshhorn’s museum is home to some of the most extensive collections of postwar art in the world, and holds striking exhibitions encompassing works by today’s artists working in performance art, digital media, video, and more.
In March 2023, a new reality art show, The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, has begun airing on MTV. Seven artists from around the US compete for $100,000 and a “career-defining exhibit” at the Hirshhorn Museum. The chief juror of the competition is Melissa Chiu, the museum director of Hirshhorn Museum.
Selections from Simone Leigh, who represented the United States in the 2022 Venice Biennale, are on display at the Venice Presentation through March 3, 2024. Important pieces from her whole career are added to it, giving viewers a comprehensive picture of the artist’s output in bronze, ceramics, and video.
The greatest museum work by American conceptual artist Jessica Diamond will be on display during the Wheel of Life exhibition through June 2, 2024. Wheel Of Life aims to showcase the innovative aspect of the artist’s work by showcasing fifteen text-and-image pieces at the Hirshhorn’s second-floor inner-circle galleries.
Belief + Doubt by Barbara Kruger and Pickett’s Charge by Mark Bradford are the two current exhibitions.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León – León, Spain
The facade of Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC) is made up of multicolor mirrored glass panels playfully reflecting the sunshine in the morning.
The architectural studio of Mansilla+Tuñón Arquitectos was inspired by stained-glass cathedral windows, specifically the main rose window of the 13th-century Gothic Cathedral Santa Maria De Leon, also known as The Falconer.
The MUSAC aims to be the “museum of the present” and currently houses a collection of the youngest generation of artists from 1992 to 2012. Since opening in 2005, the museum has been a cultural inspiration to the city of Leon, and a star of 21st century Spanish architecture. The MUSAC contains 5 exhibition halls, a library, and spaces for projects and workshops.
The Search for Origin will run until May 19, 2024. This large-scale installation honors Ana Mendieta. The exhibition focuses on how the artist constantly reinvented herself, creating a unique, fleeting sculpture language that was occasionally performed and was inspired by her studies of prehistoric mythology and rock art. The show is organized thematically into eight segments that feature 13 never-before-seen items in addition to famous paintings.
A selection of works that specifically address heritage as a set of components that should act as a bridge between generations and materialize history in a hands-on discussion may be found in the MUSAC collection Epilogue.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Busan (MOCA Busan) – Busan, South Korea
On Eulsukdo Island in Busan, South Korea, is the Museum of Contemporary Art Busan (MOCA Busan). Inaugurated in 2018, the museum covers an area of 15,312 m2 and aims to introduce new trends in contemporary art, with a particular focus on new media art. It is dedicated to exploring the issues of nature, ecosystems, and their relationship to humanity and the future.
MOCA Busan places great importance on art education and its role in daily life, aiming to create a venue that experiments with contemporary art, hosts insightful exhibitions, provides art education programs, facilitates international collaborations, and conducts academic conferences.
This is Not Just Local:Tactical Practices is showcased running through July 7, 2024. The exhibition is designed by a number of curators and artists from Busan’s local community, who came together to form a preliminary research group and executive committee in the hopes of actively questioning and challenging the concept of locality instead of stopping short at offering superficial interpretations within the framework of state-centric paradigms.
There are several upcoming exhibitions running through July 7, 2024. Masterful Attention Seekers aims to explore the history of attention seekers from past to present by observing the human dynamics of attention seeking behavior from various contexts.
The Busan MoCA Collection, will house its first permanent exhibition. The first pieces to be displayed in 2024 are LMO 3116 by STUDIO1750 and Used To Be My Home Too by Marc Lee. While STUDIO1750 turns genetically modified living forms into kinetic installations, Marc Lee uses real-time data visualization to understand the effects of “biological species” homogeneity on our lives and the environment.
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Arts – Cape Town, South Africa
Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is home to the most significant collection of art from Africa and its diaspora. The Museum opened in 2017 with the generous contribution of Jochen Zeitz.
Heatherwick Studio repurposed the historic landmark Grain Silo complex into a modern structure by paying homage to its industrial use and history. They transformed the outside of the structure by adding 100 convex glass windows. Meanwhile, the interior, which previously consisted of 42 vertical concrete tubes, was carved to create an otherworldly bubbly open space.
Running through March 24, 2024, two exhibitions are showcased with the documentary and archival exhibition Past Disquiet is based on research the curators did over a ten-year period on four seed collections of art that represented artists’ engagement with a specific political cause. Seismography of Struggle: Towards a Global History of Critical and Cultural Journals, is a traveling exhibition and research initiative, curated by Zahia Rahmani, emphasizes non-European critical and cultural journals as instruments of resistance in liberatory and anti-colonial movements.
Zeitz MOCAA is hosting Mame-Diarra Niang’s first solo museum show, The Self as a Forgotten Monument. Running through July 7, 2024, the project, which is structured as a review of the artist’s work over the last ten years, brings together notable bodies of work in conversation inside a spatial choreography.
A group exhibition is running through October 13, 2024, with seven artists included in Seekers, Seers, Soothsayers, a lens-based project that investigates stories and encounters related to the nonphysical realm. The artists illustrate how ritual, dedication, and acts of remembering may provide connectivity, restoration, or different ways of viewing oneself within the cycle of life through experimental video, immersive installation, performance, sound, and narrative.