Museum Hacktivity

I wouldn’t say that I normally encourage slapping a museum, but there is a time and place for everything. The time and place in question was The Getty Center at the conclusion of a Museum Hack tour.

Museum Hack, often described as a renegade tour company, first came to my attention several years ago when I was living in Philadelphia, but it took both of us moving to Los Angeles to finally get together. This past May, Museum Hack announced that it was bringing its popular and off-beat tours to the Getty, and were kind enough* to let me tag along on one of their first offerings.

The tour may have started wonderfully, but I wouldn’t know because I got there late (tip for future tour participants at the Getty: arrive much earlier than you think you need to because the lines for the tram can be very long on weekends). In spite of my tardiness, our guide Adrian couldn’t have been nicer about bringing me into the fold, going so far as to do another quick ice breaker to introduce my fellow participants. And, make no mistake, this is a group tour…camaraderie, teamwork, mini competitions, hands-in-let’s-cheer-together, the whole shebang.

As for the art, Adrian was able to highlight many of the non-highlights of the Getty’s collection and make them compelling, including various appearances by Zeus, a sculpture with a detachable penis, the fascinating backstory of Mary Seacole, costly fakes, and 18th century hairstyling tips. She even took a quick Polaroid of you in front of your favorite painting.

As the tour wound down, we ended up outside for a debriefing, and that is when the slapping began. There is a wall made of travertine stone that when you strike its various blocks, makes hollow sounding musical notes. My tour mates and I pounded away on the wall as a form of drum roll as Adrian announced the winner of one of the contests and distributed bits of Museum Hack swag. Banging on that wall was fun, a little unexpected, and informative, which is essentially what Museum Hack tours are all about.

Museum Hack tours are currently available in New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia (currently only team building tours).

What’s your favorite museum tour?

***Full Disclaimer: Though I was given free tickets from Museum Hack to attend this tour, all opinions expressed are my own.


Getty Getaway

How hot is it in L.A. today?

How hot is it in L.A. today?

“You don’t really like beach reads, do you?”


My boyfriend nods at the book I’m reading: a compilation of William Shirer’s radio broadcasts from WWII Berlin.

I shrug, “We’re not at the beach.”

“Might as well be.”

And he’s right. It’s 106 degrees outside and our 1920s-era apartment on L.A.’s East Side is not coping well with the heat. So, we do what any sane, sweltering Angelino would do: head towards the water.


I didn’t bring my beach read though, because we’re not visiting the beach itself, but just beside it, where the Getty Villa lies nestled in the hills of Malibu/Pacific Palisades.


It has been a year since I last visited a museum, but the cool marble-lined villa, gurgling water features, and sea breeze off the Pacific were the perfect excuse to rejoin the ranks of museum visitors. I had no agenda: no must-see items, no massive crowds to fight my way through, no planning of any sort. And it was lovely. Just walked around, snapped some pictures (no flash!), and was completely relaxed. I haven’t enjoyed a museum visit this much in a very long time.



Museums to See: Helsinki

Helsinki, Finland

Nordic countries have been on my mind a lot lately between wanting to stay in Norway’s Juvet Hotel, reading classic groundbreaking mysteries from Swedish duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, and noting the impending closure of Copenhagen’s Noma. Then there’s Finland, who I have mainly known for their focus on the future, revolutionary educational theories, and saunas. But it wasn’t until reading about Helsinki in a recent issue of the British version of Conde Nast Traveller that I thought much about Helsinki’s museum offerings. Here are just a few of the cultural institutions I’ve been missing out on…

Red Wall/Blue Wall. Photos by Milka Varmola (left) and Niina Vatanen (right)—both of Finnish National Gallery—via Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma's Flickr stream.

Red Wall/Blue Wall.
Photos by Milka Varmola (left) and Niina Vatanen (right)—both of Finnish National Gallery—via Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma’s Flickr stream.

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art

A contemporary art museum associated with the Finnish National Gallery, Kiasma is appealing as much for its architectural assets as for its artistic collection. When designing the museum, architect Steven Holl was particularly focused on how the building’s shapes and spaces would interact with light, and I particularly like how there seems to be a general surfeit of straight lines. Their collection has about 8500 works, but there is a constant rotation of exhibitions to keep things fresh.

Scenes from the Design Museum. Photos (clockwise from top) by Ilkka Jukarainen, Martin Terber, and Katja Nevalainen via Flickr.

Scenes from the Design Museum.
Photos (clockwise from top) by Ilkka Jukarainen, Martin Terber, and Katja Nevalainen via Flickr.

Design Museum
Even though it’s over 140 years old, Helsinki’s Design Museum manages to showcase why Finnish design (industrial, fashion, graphic, etc.) still makes such an impact today.

Light and Dark at the Ateneum. Both photos by ri Sa via Flickr.

Light and Dark at the Ateneum.
Both photos by ri Sa via Flickr.

Ateneum Museum
Fun fact: when the Ateneum acquired Street in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1903, it became the first museum to own a Van Gogh. And that’s not the only jewel in their collecting crown. For nearly 130 years, this outpost of the Finnish National Gallery has built up a solid collection of roughly 4400 works of art, which, in addition to an extensive catalog of Finnish art, includes appearances by Modigliani, Cezanne, Munch, and Goya.

A Welcoming Party. Photo by Tomi Tapio K via Flickr.

A Welcoming Party.
Photo by Tomi Tapio K via Flickr.

Finnish Museum of Natural History
This place seems to have more personality than most natural history museums I have seen or read about. I mean, just look at those giraffes having tea on the museum’s balcony.

Coming Soon…Guggenheim Helsinki
Back in June 2015, Paris-based firm Moreau Kusnoki was announced as the winner of the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition. Over 1700 entries were submitted for the creation of the latest outpost of the Guggenheim art empire. There’s no set opening date yet, but when the series of “darkly clad pavilions” does make its debut you will definitely hear about it.


Rest and refresh your tired museum legs. Photos by Mme Passepartout and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma via Flickr.

Bonus Mention…Museum Cafes
These do not look those fast-casual places or bland cafeterias I have found in many U.S. museums. Kiasma’s cafe focuses on local Nordic produce and serves up cava, while the Design Museum cafe looks like an artisan coffee shop. Out at the Suomenlinna Fortress they have a brewery, a pizzeria, and at least ten other dining options.

Seeing Them All
The Helsinki Card gets you free access to 28 of Helsinki’s museums and dozens of other discounts and deals across the city for between 39-59 euros.



All the Places I Didn’t Go

Photo by Museumist.

One of the places I did go.

It got too hot, which was an odd thing to say for November, especially only two days removed from the white-out snowy conditions of high desert New Mexico. This was a different desert, though. This was drought-be-damned-I’m-growing-a-golf-course Palm Springs. Almost six months into a still-incomplete road trip, pausing in the California oasis town to celebrate Thanksgiving, I suggested a walk down to the Botanical Gardens to check things out. I didn’t make it. It got too hot, and the gardens became just one more place I didn’t visit.

Over the course of my travels, I attended a pre-wedding cocktail party on the roof of the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin, but didn’t see any of the collection contained within; and it was too near closing time at Hearst Castle when the coast road of Big Sur beckoned. No one shared my enthusiasm—including a three-year-old big rig devotee—for a trip to the Iowa 80 Truck Stop Trucking Museum, and, in an effort to catch the last half of the Women’s World Cup final, I ran past the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art to snag a bar stool at a student bar nearby. And, when my car nearly broke down in Bend, Oregon, I began to wonder if it was because it was against a trip to the High Desert Museum.

Excuses, reasons, and explanations aside, sometimes a trip is better off for all the places you were supposed to visit, but didn’t. For instance, I harbor no regrets for missing the Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Missouri, because further down the road one of the more awesome thunderstorms of my life rolled up as the landscape gave way to the open plains of Oklahoma. The Shell Museum in Sanibel, Florida, surely forgave me for passing up an annual visit in favor of tossing Cat Paws into the Gulf of Mexico with my niece instead. A bowl of artichoke soup at Duarte’s in Pescadero, California, was worth missing out on any of San Francisco’s myriad cultural institutions.

A look from inside Penetrabile at LACMA.

A look from inside Penetrabile at LACMA.

It hasn’t always been this way. I have long assumed the role of tour guide in my family, and my early itineraries were jam-packed with must see sites of cultural and historical import. One day in Rome? You have to see the Vatican Museum. Right? Well, no, it turns out. I’ve learned that being lured away from a planned museum visit for something unexpected is not nearly as disappointing as once believed. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed the few museum visits I’ve managed to make over the past year and a half—a walk through the spaghetti-like strands of Penetrabile at LACMA is oddly soothing—but I no longer have that fear of missing out that used to follow a missed museum connection.

Perhaps one day I’ll make it back to Nashville and visit the Johnny Cash Museum, and on a repeat visit to Buffalo I will most likely choose the Albright-Knox instead of Niagara Falls. It’s possible I may stop into the Valley Forge Visitor’s Center instead of walking a six-mile loop around the park for exercise, and it seems unlikely, but I may even make it to the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings somewhere down the line. But, for now, they’ll just remain some of the many places I didn’t go.


Museums To See: Kroller-Muller Museum

In no particular order, the museums, galleries, and cultural experiences on my To-See list. Let’s get started…

Kroller-Muller Museum, Gelderland, The Netherlands


Photo by Jordanhill School D&T Dept via Flickr.

Imagine approaching the fences, with a series of sand dunes, heathlands, and an assortment of wildlife lying beyond. Next thing you know, you’re pedaling along the paths aboard a glistening white bicycle–it’s not yours, mind you, but rather a free mode of transport available to visitors. Along the way, you may see a variety of deer, a wild boar, or hear the bleating call of a noisy mouflon, but reconnecting with nature is not your primary goal here–you’re here for the Van Goghs.

Where are you? Why the Hoge Veluwe National Park, of course, which is one of two privately owned national parks in the Netherlands and home to the Kroller-Muller Museum. What started as the private collection of Helene Kroller-Mueller–who used her taste, husband’s money, and an advisor’s eye to create a collection of over 11,000 works and the world’s largest private holdings of Van Gogh masterpieces–eventually was handed over to the government’s care during an economic downturn and subsequently turned into a museum.


Roze perzikbomen/Pink peach trees ('Souvenir de Mauve'). c.30 March 1888 Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)

At first glance, the Kroller-Muller Museum is reminiscent of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Farnsworth House near Plano, Illinois. All clean lines, glass for miles, modern. However, and I mean no offense to Plano or Mies, the Farnsworth House is an appetizer to the Kroller-Muller entree. As if the 55 sq km park surrounding the museum and the stellar collection weren’t enough of an enticement, the accompanying outdoor sculpture garden  should be sufficient to attract even the most tepid of museum goers. Ultimately, it’s a place where art, architecture, and nature unite in wonderful harmony.

Here are some more shots of the Kroller-Muller Museum…


Photos by (clockwise from upper left): sjdunphy, Fiona Bradley, ctsnow, and sjdunphy. All via Flickr.

Have you been to the Kroller-Muller Museum? Send us your pictures at <editor at museumist dot com>.


Where Good Food Is Part of the Mission

My lunch at Fika.

It’s been a while since I lived in a place where the winter chill crept in by mid-October, but as the temperatures in Minnesota started to fall I was feeling positively Nordic. So it was that I found myself seated at a bare white table in the newly designed wing of the American Swedish Institute.

Now, the American Swedish Institute has a lovely collection of textiles, is strong in works by Swedish and Swedish-American artists, and boasts an extensive library and archives that shed light on the Swedish-American experience, but I did not come for any of that. I’m here for the food.


Cafeteria at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. Photo by Osbornb via Flickr.

The idea of the museum restaurant is far from a new. After all, spending hours on your feet poring over art and artifacts is going to leave even the most hardy of museum visitors craving refreshment. Most museum eateries fall into two general categories: cafeteria (see The Metropolitan Museum of Art) or high-end dining (the much-loved Oleum restaurant at Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya comes to mind). However, while both types will satisfy your hunger for rest and refreshment, many museum restaurants seem to lack an essential ingredient: namely, how do the muchies relate to the mission?

The American Swedish Institute successfully answered that question with the opening of Fika this past July. Under the direction of noted local chef Michael Fitzgerald, this minimally-decorated cafe not only bridges the gap between cafeteria and haute cuisine, but also enables the oft-opposing ideas of revenue generating restaurant and museum mission to meld together. For a museum that aims to “serve as a gathering place for people to share stories and experiences around universal themes of tradition, migration, craft and the arts, all informed by enduring ties to Sweden,” providing a venue for people to engage in this exchange over a plate of delicious, seasonal, and affordable Swedish food seems like a no-brainer. I mean, even Ikea knows that the process of browsing endless affordable Swedish design products is made infinitely better if there is a possibility of enjoying a Swedish meatball at the end of the maze.

Scenes from the Neue Galerie's Cafe Sabarsky. Photo by stevendamron via Flickr.

While museum mission-friendly restaurants like Fika seem particularly well-suited to ethnic museums–after all, food is an essentially element of a culture–other types of museums have succeeded in blending their restaurants with their missions. The Neue Galerie in New York is one such museum, with their two Viennese-inspired cafes serving as a perfect complement to their collection of early-20th century German and Austrian design.


So, readers, what other museum restaurants can you think of that succeed in reflecting their institution’s mission?




Museums To See: MONA

In no particular order, the museums, galleries, and cultural experiences on my To-See list. Let’s get started…

The Museum of Old and New Art
(Hobart, Tasmania)


Photo of Sidney Nolan's "Snake" by jeffowenphotos via Flickr.

A relatively new gem on the world’s museum stage–it reopened in January 2011–MONA was quickly added to my list after I saw a picture of Sidney Nolan’s “Snake” that they have on display. Intrigued, I decided to learn more about the museum. The result? About a hundred other reasons for me to save up for a trip to Tasmania.

MONA’s collection ranges from contemporary art to Egyptian antiquities, with all sorts of odds and ends in between. According to, “MONA takes a different approach to interpretation: there are no labels or wall texts. Instead, visitors are given a touch-screen device, which is sensitive to their location in the museum–showing them works in their proximity. Called the ‘O’, it allows visitors to select the level of information they need and to vote for works they ‘hate’ or ‘love’.” While that’s all very interesting, I am also intrigued by what MONA has going on around the art collection.


Photo by jeffowenphotos via Flickr.

David Walsh, a professional gambler, art collector, and founder of the museum, has described MONA as a “subversive adult Disneyland,” and I can see what he means. The museum is beautifully situated in the cliffs rising from the banks of the River Derwent on the grounds of the Moorilla Winery, and MONA’s truly modern architecture manages to fit in with its rather breathtaking natural surroundings. Given its proximity to viticulture, it should come as no surprise that visitors can sample offerings from the winery. However, they can also play in the hotel pool, dine in the museum’s world-class restaurant, or even enjoy a pint at the on-site brewery.


Photo from


Milwaukee Museum Magic

Ten years ago, the city of Milwaukee made its mark as an architectural destination when they unveiled a new Santiago Calatrava-designed building for their art museum on the banks of Lake Michigan. Since then, it’s scooped up numerous design awards, was voted Sexiest Building in its yearbook (museums totally have Senior Superlatives, right?), and even served as the backdrop for a Victoria’s Secret commercial. If you haven’t been to the Milwaukee Art Museum yet, you should definitely go now. There is an entire exhibition based on the building’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Photo by o paisson via Flickr.

Photo by o paisson via Flickr.


Photo by carlo cravero via Flickr.

Photo by crazyegg95 via Flickr.

Photo by o paisson via Flickr.

Photo by CJ Schmit via Flickr.


Unusual Admissions Policy?

My favorite part from this Jimmy Kimmel bit about the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum in Austria…”All illegitimate children under 12 are free.”

Want to know more about the museum? You can visit their website or read more here.



The Best Little Whorehouse…Museum

Have you ever been to the Center of the Universe? Nestled in a valley amid the rising pine-tree blanketed peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains of Northern Idaho lies the town of Wallace. It’s a small town — in the 2000 census, 960 people called it home — that has made a disproportionately large mark on history. If you find yourself at the point where 6th Street meets Bank Street in the southwest portion of town, look down. That’s the Center of the Universe, or at least it has been since 2004 when the Mayor of Wallace declared it to be so and put in a manhole cover to commemorate the occasion. Now look up, you’re standing in the middle of a street and you should probably move before you get hit by a car.

Once safely back on the sidewalk, you can take in your surroundings. Wallace is an old mining town, a central player in the Silver Valley, which got its name from the over 1 billion ounces of the metal unearthed from the 40 miles of rugged hills over the last 130 years or so. This outpost of the Wild West got its start back in the 1880s and was the center of national interest when tensions between miners and owners boiled over to such an extreme that lives were lost and the Army was called in to keep the peace in both 1892 and 1899. The Great Burn of 1910 wiped out most of the town, but it was quick to rebuild. Many of the buildings you see today are part of that reconstruction effort and are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a ploy by the town to force the federal government to build Interstate 90 over Wallace rather than through it. As a result, there is still much of that turn of the century charm about Wallace.

Photo by amanderson2 via Flickr.

Wallace is less than a square mile in area, but there are actually a fair amount of venues for drinking in the history of this western gem. To get a feel for the mining life, visit the Wallace District Mining Museum just east of the Center of the Universe or take a mine tour in one of the surrounding caves. Of course, the railroad was integral to the town’s survival, so a trip to the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot Museum is recommended. But, to really get a taste for life in a rugged western mining town, look no further than the Oasis Bordello Museum.

The Oasis was a fully function brothel up until 1988 (just shy of it’s 100th birthday), when the madame — known as Ginger — got word of an FBI raid. The ladies grabbed what they could and ran out the door just ahead of the lawmen. The G-Men ended up using Wallace as their center of operations for three years as they cracked down on lawlessness in the region, which meant the Oasis remained shuttered. However, this house of ill repute got a second lease on life when it reopened as a museum in 1993.

Enter through the gift shop, where paintings of idyllic mining life share space with seductively posed mannequins (well, as seductively posed as mannequins can be). This is also a perfect opportunity to pick up that “Good-Time Girls Cookbook” you’ve been meaning to add to your collection or my personal favorite memento: the menu mug. The menu of services as they stood on the 1988 closing date has been printed to make your morning coffee just a little more racy. “Straight, no frills” would cost you $15 and last 8 minutes, while an hour long bubble bath would run you $80. The “Half & Half Deluxe” seems like a bargain at $25.

Sign up for the Bordello Tour and head upstairs for a look at the rooms, which have been preserved exactly as they were left (even the dirty dishes in the sink) in 1988. It lasts about 20 minutes, and provides a worthwhile glimpse into the lives of the women who worked in the world’s oldest profession in this small mining town. You also get to find out the story behind the one-shoed men of Wallace. It just might be one of the more memorable museum experiences you’ll ever have.

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