The city of St. Louis offers many free opportunities through a subsidy from a cultural tax, making places like the Saint Louis Zoo and the Saint Louis Art Museum accessible to all – especially broke college students.
The museum was founded in 1879, but the current building broke ground in 1902 and was originally called the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1904 World’s Fair. Since then, it has become one of the foremost art museums in the nation.
From wide open portrait galleries on the first floor to a twisting series of period-decorated rooms on the ground level, the museum caters for all. On a typical visit, one can see crowds of chatting and excited grade schoolers right next to clusters of serious and uptight donors, led by their docent guide. Museum staff are friendly and can always be depended upon to point one in the right direction if one loses their way in the maze of galleries.
The museum features many world-renowned paintings and sculptures, as well as thousands of lesser-known works from all over the world, ranging from weapons to furniture. The non-Western galleries include Islamic, Asian, African, Native American and Pacific Islander art.
Those interested in photography are in luck. The museum collection consists of 3,000 works spanning the early ages of the medium to the present. By appointment, one can even get access to the study room for prints, drawings and photographs, allowing for in-depth study of the 14,000 works not on display to the public.
Freshman Madison Flannery recently visited the museum for an art history class and admits that she had a fangirl moment when she saw one of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” paintings and Edgar Degas’ “Little Dancer of Fourteen Years” sculpture, on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
“While the art in the rest of the museum is worth going to any day, I highly recommend that everyone go see this priceless art before it moves on to another museum,” Flannery said about the Degas sculpture. “It’s definitely worth it.”
Over the summer, the museum celebrated the grand opening of its new east wing expansion, increasing the museum size by 30 percent and adding 21 new galleries. –This wing also features the innovative Taylor Hall, designed to combine nature and art. Its ceiling lets in daylight so visitors’ experiences of the paintings will change depending on the weather.
Be sure to check out the Post-War German Art exhibition before it ends, featuring paintings, sculpture, prints and photography. Future exhibitions coming to the museum include Chiura Obata: Four Paintings, Four Moods, The Weight of Things: Photographs by Paul Strand and Emmet Gowin, and Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet.
On a free weekend, consider spending a day running around Forest Park, visiting the animals in the zoo and discovering the art in the museum. The best part about this? It’s all for free.