One of the most underrated aspects of Memphis culture is its vibrant art scene. With a strong advertising and design community, and one of the best art schools in the South (Memphis College of Art), it’s really no surprise that the city is teeming with museums, galleries and pop-up art exhibits just about every day of the week.
From highbrow classical portraiture to street-art and metalwork, Memphis museums give visitors a surprisingly wide array of exhibits to choose from. To help you whittle down those choices, we’ve selected a few you should not miss.
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is the grand dame of Memphis museums. It’s the oldest and one of the largest in the entire state, totaling 86,000 square feet. It’s partly housed in a registered U.S. National Landmark Beaux-arts building, which holds a great deal of the museum’s collection, including everything from modern multi-media pieces to priceless antiquities.
But the Brooks experience also includes the much-loved store (where you can find unique, cool gifts), the Brushmark Restaurant, the Holly Court garden, and a terrace with one of the best views of Memphis’ lush Overton Park.
Dixon Gallery & Gardens
With a permanent collection of over 2,000 objects, it would be easy to think of the Dixon as just a gallery or museum. And it is that, but it’s so much more. The Dixon’s mission isn’t just to expose the public to impressionist paintings and antique porcelain, but to also connect people to the beauty of nature and, specifically, gardening.
Located in the heart of Memphis near Audubon Park (naturally), the Dixon’s Georgian-style residence and 17 acres give visitors an opportunity to see one of the best arboretums in the country.
As the only institution in the country to focus exclusively on the art and craft of fine metalwork, I think it’s safe to say the Memphis museum scene is pretty eclectic.
The Metal Museum’s collection, of course, features architectural ironwork, jewelry, and hollowware (def: hollow or concave serving dishes and accessories, especially of silver – I didn’t know either).
But like the Brooks and the Dixon, the environment is just as much a draw as the art. In addition to outdoor sculptures and century-old trees, the grounds at the Metal Museum provide visitors with arguably the best view of the Mississippi River in the entire Mid-South.
Once a temporary exhibit housed in the Pink Palace museum, the Belz collection’s permanent home can be found in Downtown Memphis on Main Street. Inside, visitors will experience one of the most comprehensive collections of Chinese art in the region. And like a lot of Asian art exhibits, many of the pieces are incredibly old, ancient even, dating back to 202 B.C.
But the Chinese aren’t the only ones represented by the Belz collection. In fact, we’d argue that the true hidden gem in this museum is The Collection of Judaica, which includes more than 30 bronze sculptures that literally illustrate the entire Bible.
Sometimes it’s nice to find a museum that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The Pink Palace is such a place. Located in East Memphis, the Pink Palace is literally that, a big pink mansion that gives visitors an in-depth and unique look at the history of the Mid-South region, specifically the industries that shaped it.
For example, one of the museum’s most mentioned exhibits is a replica of the first self-serve grocery store. That grocery store, a Piggly Wiggly. In addition, the Pink Palace features a 3D movie theater, a planetarium, and a variety of other state-of-the-art exhibits.