Seven Favorite Museums in Metro Phoenix

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International Museum Day is right around the corner and a handful of museums in Phoenix have big plans. But the designated day has less to do with parties and deals and more to do with awareness -- there are dozens of museums in the metro Phoenix area that host artwork by locally and internationally acclaimed artists in countless forms of media from all decades.

Here are seven of our favorite museums in town that are perfect for an inspiring day off, a first date, a quiet evening, a stop during First Friday, or a Mother's Day experience -- you don't need an excuse. Get out there.

7. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art SMoCA's long been a place to see and be seen -- and with good reason. The museum is home to solo and group exhibitions by local and international artists in the contemporary realm, including photographer Kiki Smith, architects Annie Han + Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studios, installation artist Rivane Neuenschwander, and local artist Jon Haddock (to name a few), who have shown their work within the last year. Be sure to check out the killer gift shop, special events in the radiating red lounge, and the view inside James Turrell's Knight Rise.

6. Musical Instrument Museum Get your musical fill on two floors of instruments and exhibitions from every country in the world at the Musical Instrument Museum. Home to more than 15,000 instruments and artifacts found in each of the geographic and cultural regions they're played, The MIM is an easy place to lose track of time and geek out on the sounds of a Chinese paigu, a Balinese gamelan, and an African sanza.

5. Phoenix Airport Museum There's no admission to the museum at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. You just have to find a place to park (and avoid the temptation to go on vacation). The Airport Museum's collection can be found throughout the display areas of terminals 2, 3, and 4, and changing exhibitions have featured artwork by Ted DeGrazia, William Legoullon, Hector Ruiz, and Ellen Wagener. Sure, some of the displays are purely travel advertisements, but we're willing to pay the small price in exchange for free (and 24-hour access) to seriously great art.

4. Heard Museum For years, the Heard Museum has been a wealth of Native American history, stories, and artwork that have shaped this city and community. Here, you can find century-old Katsina dolls and archives of traditional baskets, as well as small and large scale paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and clothing created by members of Native tribes throughout the country. And if your taste is more contemporary, check out the museum's Berlin Gallery, where you can see (and purchase!) work by local and national artists who often stop in for lectures and meet-and-greets.

3. Phoenix Design Museum You won't be able to find the Phoenix Design Museum -- as of now, it's boxed up and waiting for its next installation in a temporary location somewhere in Phoenix. The Design Museum was a pop-up that began under the watchful eyes of a group of local designers last year during Phoenix Design Week (scheduled this year for September 24 through 30). The collection includes examples of drool-worthy graphic and industrial work by big-name and emerging designers. Now, we just have to wait for another "pop."

2. ASU Art Museum In the heart of Tempe, on the edge of Arizona State University's campus, is an underground entrance to one of our favorite places to sit and stare. ASU Art Museum is home to a killer collection of artwork by local and international artists; it hosts residency programs for visiting artists from around the globe; it often showcases work by ASU professors and alumni (who are also artists); and it has a great gift shop with seriously great sales.

1. Phoenix Art Museum Phoenix Art Museum is easy to find, just follow the light of Josiah McElheny's The Last Scattering Surface -- a handblown glass, chrome plated aluminum, electric, hanging installation that lights the entrance to the museum on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix. We could spend hours perusing the modern art collection on the second floor, the latest couture exhibition curated by the sharp and careful eyes of Dennita Sewell, the sculpture garden, or the museum's current contemporary show (and grab lunch or drinks between at the museum's restaurant). Now, if it just had the Airport Museum's hours ...

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Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


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