Like all major European cities, Barcelona is a place deeply infused with culture—and its many art museums are evidence of that. There are dozens of excellent places to browse among historic paintings, dramatic sculptures, and experimental art installations here; for my list, I tried to select the museums that best combine high quality art pieces with beautiful architecture (of the museums themselves). Of course, modernism is Catalonia’ biggest artistic attraction; Barcelona is the only place in the world that offers you the range and scope of modernist works you’ll see here.
In general, Barcelona offers a good glimpse of the French avant-garde movement; Spanish artists like Tapies, Picasso, and Dalí; 19th- and 20th-century European architecture. You can also see some of the region’s newest artistic creations at cutting-edge places like Santa Monica or the MACBA. The city also offers a great chance to see the impact of art in Europe over the last two centuries.
This incredible treasure trove of works by the modern-art master is likely the only one that Picasso was directly involved with. It was opened in 1963 and contains more than 4,000 pieces by the legendary artist, most of them from his youth. The museum is considered the ultimate reference for experts studying Picasso; you won't find anything like it anywhere in the world.
One of my favorite museums in Catalonia, the MNAC (which stands for National Museum of Catalan Art) recently more than doubled its collection of Spanish and international art from the past several centuries; some 2,000 works now occupy its galleries. The modernist collection here, which includes works by artists like Francesc Català-Roca and Salvador Dalí, is extremely impressive; if you have an interest in that period of art history, this is your perfect refuge.
The Tàpies foundation is an incredible red brick building (an early example of Catalan Modernist architecture from the 1880s) that features the works of Joan Tàpies—perhaps the most popular Catalan artist—apart from Salvador Dalí—of the last 50 years. The rooms are huge, the walls let the works of art breathe, and browsing here is wonderfully relaxing.
Barcelona’s museum of contemporary art, housed in a building created by star architect Richard Meier in 1995, is home to a great collection of European pop art, as well as works by avant-garde artists from the '70s and '80s, including Ali Cherri, Walid Raad, Richard Hamilton and Dieter Roth. The collection was recently expanded, and is now spread through other nearby buildings in the heart of El Raval.
Centre d’Arts Santa Monica
One of the most beautiful museums in town, this arts center occupies a former 17th-century monastery. But there's nothing old-fashioned about the exhibits here; ever since it first opened in 1988 with a show highlighting surrealism, the Santa Monica has dedicated itself to experimental and cutting-edge art created in a variety of media.