New book shares insider access to private art collections across the U.S.
By Chadd Scott
Linda Fischbach's 'Extraordinary Art Experiences in America An Insider’s Guide' book cover
Art and travel are my two favorite things. And pizza.
I’ve been covering the intersection of art and travel at Forbes.com since 2018, highlighting what I think are the top public art experiences around America in over 300 stories and counting. Museum exhibitions, gallery openings, fairs, festivals, public art. That position led me to this one with “Essential West” where I place my focus on the western United States.
A new book from Linda Fischbach published in August of 2023, "Extraordinary Art Experiences in America: An Insider's Guide," naturally intrigued me. It’s an exploration of non-traditional collections that have transformed into unique art experiences open to the public.
Fischbach is a research librarian, art authority, and founder of ArtPrivee.org, a premier directory of the world’s finest private art museums and collections. Similarly, her book takes as its focal point private art collections.
Considering myself an expert on this same subject – unconventional art spaces open to the public around the country – I was excited to put Fischbach’s picks to the test. While I was familiar with most of her selections, she was able to throw a few fastballs past me. I had never heard of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation in Los Angeles and from the photos and description she shares of the home/museum, this goes to the top of my L.A. art “to do” list.
“Extraordinary Art Experiences in America” thankfully features more photography than text and reads like a swiftly flowing magazine. The layout and design are gorgeous. Fischbach uses her personal experiences visiting these places to make them come alive, sharing their origin stories and tips for going. The tidy, $35, 160-page hardcover book makes for a wonderful travel guide.
The author shares more than 30 of her favorite destinations with Napa and Sonoma Valley being one of her preferred hotspots along with New York and South Florida. Bravo on the selection of the Charles M. Schulz Research Center in Santa Rosa, CA displaying work from the “Peanuts” comic strip artist.
I wish Fischbach had offered more of these super-sneaky, unheralded, or out-of-the-way venues like the Weisman Art Foundation and Schulz Center. Placing the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver or the Getty Center and Getty Villa on the list seem too obvious.
The book’s emphasis is museums, so you won’t find any public art spaces like Watts Towers or mural parks included; Fischbach’s selections are also generally centered on Modern and contemporary art.
I won’t spoil any more of her surprises. What I will do is offer 11 of my own. "Extraordinary Art Experiences in America” spans the nation, here, I’ll focus just on the West, sharing favorite quirky, unexpected, lesser-known art gems I’ve come across on my travels.
As with Fischbach’s choices, because these aren’t traditional museums, visiting may require a reservation and hours will be limited. Check ahead before arriving.
Extraordinary, and Unexpected, Art Experiences in the West
American Museum of Western Art – The Anschutz Collection (Denver)
Billionaire business mogul Phillip Anshutz’ personal collection of Western art may be the best in the world. Hundreds of paintings are displayed “salon style” in a nearly dumbfounding presentation.
Exterior of Ellsworth Kelly's 'Austin' | Photo by Chadd Scott
‘Austin,’ by Ellsworth Kelly (Austin)
Adjacent to the Blanton Museum of Art on the Campus of the University of Texas in Austin is a 2,715-square-foot stone building with luminous colored glass windows, a totemic wood sculpture, and fourteen black-and-white stone panels in marble. Famed hard-edge painter Ellsworth Kelly gifted the design concept to the museum in 2015, the same year that he died.
College art museums like the Blanton are generally a wonderful resource for art hounds in search of off-the-beaten-path experiences. Major universities like UT-Austin, UCLA, Stanford, Washington, etc. have collections and programs as good as big public museums. Did you know Brigham Young University has the largest collection of Maynard Dixon paintings in the nation? Smaller institutions can surprise as well.
The Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios program provides another mostly underappreciated wealth of visitor opportunities for art lovers across the country.
Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery (Lindsborg, KS)
I have written here previously about my admiration for Birger Sandzén’s vibrant Western landscapes. Two miles off I-135 in an isolated section of central Kansas 70 miles north of Wichita, the tiny town of Lindsborg was settled by Swedish immigrants in 1869. Sandzén arrived in “Little Sweden USA” to teach languages and assist in the art and vocal music departments at Lindsborg’s Bethany College in 1894.
He remained at Bethany for the remainder of his career, becoming the principal art instructor in 1899.
The small college holds the largest collection of Sandzén’s work. Roughly 25 large-scale Sandzén oil paintings along with watercolors are on view at all times.
Coe Center (Santa Fe)
Exceptional examples of Indigenous baskets, pottery, sculpture, totems, beadwork and carvings can be seen here with one remarkably special aspect: visitors can touch everything on view!
La Fonda Hotel (Santa Fe)
The term “art hotel” has become overused to the point of cliché. La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe isn’t an “art hotel,” but it has one of the finest collections of Native American and Southwestern paintings you’ll find anywhere. Free to visit without a room reservation, too. Tours are available.
Maryhill Museum of Art (Goldendale, WA)
More than 80 works by French sculptor Auguste Rodin highlight this museum five miles off I-84 100 miles east of Portland which “TIME” magazine termed “the world’s most isolated art museum” when it opened in 1940.
Maryhill has a fine collection of Indigenous art, particularly from the Columbia River Plateau, Alaska, and California. What’s inside, however, can’t compare to the breathtaking gardens and grounds surrounding the property, 5,300 acres of magnificent eastern Washington scenery.
Medicine Man Gallery (Tucson)
The Neon Boneyard (Las Vegas)
Many of “old” Vegas’ most iconic neon signs – the Stardust, the Riviera – have as their final resting place the Neon Museum in North Las Vegas. Each of the more than 250 signs in the Neon Museum’s collection offers a unique story about the personalities who created it, what inspired it, where and when it was made, and the role it played in Las Vegas’ distinctive history.
In addition, the Neon Museum collection chronicles changes and trends in sign design and technology through pieces ranging from the 1930s to the present day.
Inside the New Mexico Capitol building | Photo by Chadd Scott
New Mexico State Capitol (Santa Fe)
In 1991, the New Mexico legislature established the non-profit Capitol Art Foundation. Since then, the Foundation’s mission has been to accumulate for permanent, public exhibition at the capitol building, contemporary masterpieces from artists who live and work in the state across all mediums.
In an art mecca overflowing with galleries and museums, some of the best work can be found in the “round house” – the locals’ name for the round capitol building. The Capitol is free to visit and tours are offered.
The Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City has a standout art collection available for free public viewing as well.
The Pottery Vault at the School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe)
In a previous story for “Essential West,” I described this as the most spiritual art experience in the country.
The Schnitzer Collection (Portland)
One of the finest private collections of postwar and contemporary art belongs to West Coast real estate mogul Jordan D. Schnitzer. From Warhol, Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns to Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas and David Hockney, Schnitzer has collected the major players and collected them in depth. In August of 2023 Schnitzer opened a free, small gallery space inside his 56,000-square-foot art storage warehouse in his hometown displaying prime examples from his 21,000-item collection.
Kehinde Wiley 'Rumors of War' sculpture with Robert Colescott painting in background at The Schnitzer Collection in Portland | Photo by Chadd Scott