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10 Amazing Art Museums in the West

The West, where artsy towns are plentiful, houses a diverse range of museums, from a skateboarding shrine in central California to a contemporary wonder in Aspen

Stephanie Granada
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Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Scottsdale, AZ

In 2015, Scottdale unveiled this 43,000-square-foot beauty as an ode to the rich history and present influences of the region. Browse spurs and sheriff badges, paintings depicting Lewis & Clark’s expeditions, and sculptures and photographs of trailblazers and game changers spanning the last century. scottsdalemuseumwest.org

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Centro Cultural Tijuana, Tijuana, Mexico

Right over the border from San Diego, Tijuana is teeming with activity. CECUT emerged as a pioneer in the city’s art movement in the ‘80s. Over the years, it has seen shows covering Latin American luminaries like Frida Kahlo and Fernando Botero. Every Sunday, you can peek and shop from emerging Tijuana talent during the artisan market that gathers in the garden. cecut.gob.mx
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3 / 10

Georgia O’Keefe Museum, Santa Fe, NM

In Santa Fe, all roads point back to O’Keeffe—known to many as the mother of American modernism. The modestly-sized museum is easy to navigate and hosts the largest collection of her works in the world. Pieces by the likes of Ansel Adams and Jackson Pollock also rotate through the adobe building, which is conveniently located downtown. The experience extends beyond the four walls through an app that points to significant sources of inspiration for the artist and the museum-led tours of her home and studio 60 northwest of Santa Fe. okeeffemuseum.org

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University of Alaska Museum of the North, Fairbanks, AK

Designed to reflect the alpine ridges, rivers, and aurora lights of Alaska, this architectural gem stands out on Fairbanks’s skyline. The galleries showcase rare relics, like a 36,000-year-old mummified steppe bison named Blue Babe, the largest collection of gold in Alaska, and Eskimo ivory carvings. History blends with modern times through paintings and sculptures from native artists, as well as a light and sound installation depicting the aurora borealis. alaska.org

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5 / 10

Morro Bay Skateboard Museum, Morro Bay, CA

Not only is San Luis Obispo home to a super-picturesque skatepark—a kaleidoscopic stunner that opened in Santa Rosa Park in 2015—the county also has a quirky museum dedicated to the sport’s Cali-rich history. Anyone who doesn’t consider skateboards art hasn’t seen what’s on deck at the Morro. Diehard skaters appreciate the colorful array of nostalgia-inducing styles, brands, and parts; and everyone loves the photo-op atop the owner’s 12-foot board—known as the second-largest board in the world. mbskate.com

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Whitney Western Art Museum, Cody, WY

Part of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West compex—a series of five spaces devoted to Western culture—this museum emerged in the 1950s, funded by the same family behind the famous Whitney Museum of Art in New York. Inside, you’ll find roughly 7,000 works by legendary artists who depict life beyond the Mississippi River (Frederic Remington, Joseph Henry Sharp, and James Earle—to name a few). Unlike most galleries that are divvied up by genre or chronology, the curator mixes works thematically to better tell the stories of our region. centerofthewest.org

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Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles, CA

In the midst of L.A.’s museum boom, the Marciano opened in 2017 with a focus on emerging talent and thought-provoking art. The founders (same guys behind Guess Jeans) aim to help visitors discover new creatives and to spur dialogue. Housed in a former masonic building, the lofty, three-story operation hosts shows that range from curated assortments of wigs to digital drawings to celebrated works from elusive legends like David Hammons. And, admission is free. marcianoartfoundation.org

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Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO

AAM is a space that defies expectations. For one, few would expect to find such a latticed structure in a resort town. It’s also a non-collecting museum, which means funds go toward outreach, education, and connecting with the public, rather than acquiring and caring for prized works. Redesigned in 2014, the spaces exalt the natural surroundings through a cubed design that filters light from every direction. aspenartmuseum.org

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9 / 10

Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, Portland, OR

When the Museum of Contemporary Craft shuttered in 2016, the art world lamented the loss of the icon that had helped reflect and advance handmade crafts at the pro level since the 1930s. Then the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture opened in an Allied Works-designed historic building run by the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The institution incorporates MCC’s craft collections and also features other mediums and genres. Past shows include an exhibit on prosthetic design, curations by musical legends (e.g. the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne), and a photography exhibit on feelings. ccac.pnca.edu

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10 / 10

Seattle Asian Art Museum, Seattle, WA

The Art Deco structure, which sits on the Olmstead-designed Volunteer Park, is closed until it debuts a $54 million renovation and expansion in 2019. Still, it’s worth keeping on your radar. SAAM hosts among the most comprehensive collections of ancient and modern Asian art in the world. Until it reopens, you can check into the Gardner Center’s pop-up shows around town, as well as the group’s temporary wing at the nearby Seattle Art Museum—SAAM’s sister museum. seattleartmuseum.org

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