World's Hottest Museums for 2014

02/25/2014 09:36 am ET | Updated Apr 27, 2014

Planning to visit a few up-and-coming museums this year? In addition to the great ones you already know, these newcomers attract with striking architecture and thought-provoking exhibits. Moreover, they are a benefit to their neighborhoods, drawing in fashionable new lodgings, restaurants, and galleries.

Read on to see how art and architecture go hand in hand in Miami and how small-town Arkansas is making a bold statement to the art world. Plus, we've included Antwerp's prequel to Ellis Island, a poignant fiction-to-reality collection in Istanbul, and more.

Perez Art Museum Miami and Art Wynwood, Miami, Florida

Miami's newest art installation bridges downtown and the beach at the sparkling new Perez Art Museum Miami. Leafy columns of jungle plants grow down from the museum's ivory and glass eaves like green pillars. Blue waters lap the adjacent shores, and folks gather on the grassy lawn to take in the beauty. Step inside to view Hew Locke's exhibit of watery vessels suspended from the rafters facing the sea, then move on to Ai Weiwei's irreverent sculptures of creatures.

Don't leave town without discovering Miami's other hot, edgy exhibits. This month's Art Wynwood celebration showcases the district's larger-than-life pop art murals. From February 13–17, the finest graffiti artists from around the world paint on the famed Wynwood Walls while this five-day arts event turns the midtown community into an avant-garde fair.

Red Star Line Museum, Antwerp, Belgium

New York has Ellis Island. Antwerp, on the other side of the Atlantic, has the new Red Star Line Museum. The Belgian institution is drawing crowds as it tells the stories of emigrants who took the Red Star Line from Europe to North America. The museum is located on the banks of the Scheldt River at the old Red Star Line shipping company, whose tower and adjoining warehouses served as central departure points for 2 million emigrants from all over Europe from 1873 to 1934. Before leaving for Ellis Island, people had to convince local officials that they would make it in North America, and many parents were forced to leave children behind to join the great European migration.

Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida

Locals call the three-year-old freeform geodesic dome on Tampa Bay the "Enigma." The bulbous Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, challenges the eye and the mind, as life imitates the artist whose works it celebrates. The museum also pays homage to Spain's Catalonian museum. Until April 27, the museum is exhibiting a collection of works from Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum, bringing together two of the most entertaining art icons in the coolest building in Florida. Actually, the two hobnobbed around New York at the same time. St. Pete's cool kids wander through the collection, soaking up some of that same vibe. The Warhol works include paintings, screen tests, drawings, and films as well as 50 photos by and of Warhol. These show the influence of the Spanish master on the American pop artist.

City of the Ocean, Biarritz, France

Shaped like the contours of waves with a plunging concave roof, the Steven Holl-designed City of the Ocean opened last summer to celebrate the ecology of surf. While the museum's exterior evokes the surface of nearby Bay of Biscay, its exhibits look to the ocean's depths to understand how waves form. Another exhibit follows explorers and their discoveries at the polar caps. The City of the Ocean is an edutainment hot spot for families who want to surf beyond the French sand and cafe scene. Of course, afterward, you can go back to the waves with a better understanding, and then wander over to a beautiful cafe for a prix fixe three-course lunch with good bread and wine. It is France after all.

Museum of Innocence, Istanbul, Turkey

What happens after an author pens a novel about a lover who collects things to fill the vacuum of lost love? He creates his own museum of small love relics as well. Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk created the Masumiyet Muzesi, the Museum of Innocence, after his novel of the same name. Before visiting the museum, learn the story of the character Kemal, who hoards Turkish objects to remind him of his lost love. Listen to the audio guide to get the full impact of the poignant, thought-provoking exhibits. Organized according to the book's chapters, the museum's focus is on 1970's Istanbul. The fiction-to-reality collection is a true love letter to Turkey that tells of the culture that bridges East and West. Afterward, stroll through the museum's neighborhood, between the Metro and Taksim Square, to soak up Istanbul and Pamuk's voice.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 21c Museum Hotel, and Esse Purse Museum, Arkansas

Even though it's been a few years, most Americans are still surprised to learn that one of the newest and finest American art museums opened in teeny-tiny Bentonville, Arkansas. Financed by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art showcases art in lovely pavilions around creek-fed lakes. Art lovers make pilgrimages to this out-of-the-way spot. This year, Crystal Bridges adds a new architectural element with the purchase of a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house that was threatened by floods in New Jersey. Watch as the museum begins reassembling the home and its original furnishings on sylvan grounds.

Meanwhile, another museum—actually a museum-hotel—has opened just steps away from Crystal Bridges. The 21c Museum Hotel wows guests with edgy 21st-century sculptures, paintings, and multimedia art in its contemporary digs, now the "in" spot in Bentonville.

As long as you're seeking art in Arkansas, be sure to drop in at the sleek Esse Purse Museum, which opened last summer in Little Rock. Set in an emerging neighborhood filled with boutiques and trendy eateries, Esse Purse Museum celebrates the art and history of women's handbags. And the best part is that it sells fabulous purses too.

Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway

Look out Sydney: Oslo is giving you a run for the coolest public architecture on the waterfront. The Astrup Fearnley Museet, which reopened at the end of 2012 in a fabulous Renzo Piano design, is now the city's gathering point. The museum's collection pushes the boundaries of contemporary art, much like its surroundings on Tjuvholmen (which translates to Thief Island). The new community boasts strong architectural lines and attracts an artsy crowd. A sculpture park hugs the museum, and next door, you can ride up a glass elevator called the Sneak Peak for striking views of the harbor. The surrounding streets are dotted with art galleries, eateries (be sure to check out fourth-generation Bergshaven Bakeri), and even a city beach for the hardy. The neighborhood's crown jewel is The Thief, a new hotel. Each of The Thief's 118 contemporary Norwegian-style rooms sports handpicked art. You'll want to reserve the Apparatjik Suite, with an art installation signed by the supergroup.

BioMuseo, Panama City, Panama

Frank Gehry's first Latin American design creates a stir this month when it partially opens in Panama City. Cruisers passing through the Panama Canal have seen the BioMuseo take on a chaotic geometric pattern of primary reds, blues, greens, and yellows. The jumbled design reflects how Panama pushed up from the sea 3 million years ago to separate an ocean into two distinct bodies of water. Architect Bruce Mau designed an open-air atrium that focuses on the nature and biodiversity of Panama and includes aquariums and gardens. BioMuseo's opening has been delayed several times already, leaving us impatient to see inside.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea

London has the Tate. New York has the MoMA. Seoul now boasts the MMCA. South Korea's new $230 million National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) opened in November of 2013, across the street from Seoul's main royal palace in a popular neighborhood. Other than a private art museum owned by Samsung, this is the sole contemporary art museum in the country. MMCA's current Masterpieces of Modern Korean Painting exhibition draws local and visiting crowds to take in works from the 1920s to the 1970s, a time of great change, hardship, and challenge in the country's history.

Mark Your Calendars: Upcoming 2014 Openings

2014 will be one of the best years for new museum openings. Plan your travels around taking in these openings:

  • The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is expected to open in early summer in Atlanta, between the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola. The museum will present the history of the Civil Rights struggle, celebrate progress, and confront the issues of our day.
  • The newly renovated and expanded Harvard Art Museums complex, designed by Renzo Piano, is set to open this fall.
  • The Broad, set to open in late 2014, will feature postwar and contemporary art in a striking waffled building in the heart of Los Angeles.

--By Annette Thompson

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