As Marvin Gaye and Tammie Terrell sang in their 1968 tune about missing the one you love, ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. While virtual experiences have kept us connected to our favorite activities during the last few months, there's no substitute for visiting a beloved institution and beholding a masterpiece or historic artifact in real life. As museums around the United States begin to reopen, visitors are getting reacquainted with masterworks by Peter Paul Rubens at Washington D.C.'s National Gallery of Art, mid-century spy gadgets at the International Spy Museum, a T.rex skeleton at Chicago's Field Museum, and much more.
National Gallery of Art
Reopened on July 20th, the nation’s foremost art museum contains masterworks that theoretically belong to all of us. After viewing iconic paintings such as Peter Paul Rubens’ Daniel in the Lions’ Den, Mary Cassatt’s The Boating Party and a Vincent van Gogh self-portrait from 1889, stop by the modern sculpture garden and then grab a refreshment from the espresso and gelato bar.
International Spy Museum
In keeping with its cloak-and-dagger theme, this paean to espionage suggests patrons have fun and embellish their masks with beards and lips, and then presents them with a stylus for tapping interactive displays—a stealthy way to “leave no fingerprints.” Current exhibitions cover topics such as covert action and secret information; highlights include a 1978 Soviet umbrella that fires poison pellets and a briefcase recorder from the 1950s used by the CIA.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Offering free admission through the end of August, the city’s top contemporary art museum is currently showcasing filmmaker Deborah Stratman’s The Illinois Parables, which looks at key moments in Chicago history, as well as the timely exhibition “Just Connect,” which ruminates on the ideas of space and personal relationships through the works of such artists as Eric Fischl, Jenny Holzer and Kerry James Marshall.
One of the country’s greatest museums of natural history, the Field is located on the shores of Lake Michigan in a neoclassical building completed in 1921. The collection quite literally spans time and geography, encompassing everything from ancient Egypt and plants from all over the globe to meteorites. Perhaps the most famous exhibit here is Sue, the world’s most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
On July 15, the stately early 20th-century home of philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner reopened to the public, showcasing not only her august collection of Renaissance masterpieces but also more contemporary works, including abstract pieces by artist Adam Pendleton inspired by what he terms “Black Dada.” The exhibition “Boston’s Apollo” has also been extended, featuring John Singer Sargent’s 1916 drawings of Black elevator attendant Thomas Eugene McKeller, which informed Sargent’s murals at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Institute of Contemporary Art
Dynamic contemporary works can also be seen at Boston’s premier museum of modern art, which was founded in 1936 and reopened on July 16. Within a striking structure in the Seaport District, visitors can view the figurative paintings of 30-year-old artist Tschabalala Self in her largest show to date, as well as multimedia sculptures by Carolina Caycedo investigating the displacement of peoples in Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines.
High Museum of Art
Atlanta’s major art museum contains works from around the world, including collections focused on European art and photography. But in this majority-Black city, the High’s collection of African and African-American art is particularly vast, and the vibrant folk and self-taught collection highlights African American artists such as Bill Traylor, Nellie Mae Rowe and Thornton Dial. The museum will reopen on Saturday, July 18 with pandemic safety measures in place.