Image: Broad Contemporary Art Museum
Fred Prouser  /  Reuters file
Visitors take photographs in front of the massive 200-ton steel sculpture 'Band' by artist Richard Serra, which takes up a whole floor of the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus during a press preview Feb. 7. The new museum opens to the public February 16.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/12/2008 11:56:21 AM ET 2008-02-12T16:56:21

If going to a museum conjures images of formal galleries filled with Greek statues and Renaissance paintings, now may be a good time to reconsider. From Los Angeles to New York to Washington, D.C., new museums are opening — and there isn’t a stuffy one in the bunch. Whether you’re interested in contemporary art or current events, here are four that are new or about to debut:

Broad Contemporary Art Museum
Set to open on February 16, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) is the newest addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Built at a cost of $56 million, it was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano and conceived, in large part, to bring order to the sprawling complex on Wilshire Boulevard.

The building itself is an eye-catching cube of travertine marble, set off by red steel beams and a serrated roof of louvered panels that can be adjusted to maximize natural light. A 90-foot outdoor escalator, aka “The Spider,” provides access to the third-floor entrance, a clever set up designed to leave the noisy city below.

Inside, you’ll find six galleries with pieces by early icons of contemporary art — Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg — and more recent works by the likes of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. A pair of massive Richard Serra sculptures — sinuous sheets of rolled steel weighing hundreds of tons — all but fill the first floor.

To celebrate BCAM (and related renovations), LACMA (5905 Wilshire Blvd.) is offering free admission February 16–18 (advance tickets required). Regular rates are $12 for adults, $8 for students and seniors and free for children 17 and younger. Visit www.lacma.org/ for more information.

New Museum of Contemporary Art
Approximately 2,500 miles east of BCAM, the New Museum of Contemporary Art opened on the Bowery in downtown Manhattan last December. Although the institution is 30 years old, the new New Museum represents the first time it has occupied its own freestanding, built-from-the-ground-up building.

And what a building it is. The seven-story structure resembles a stack of six rectangular boxes set slightly off-kilter and covered in a scrim of shimmering aluminum mesh. The result is a dramatic, dynamic shape that incorporates flexible gallery space while echoing the edgy, artsy style of the surrounding neighborhood.

Accordingly, the museum is designed, not as a showcase for well-established artists, but as an incubator for new ideas. The inaugural exhibit (on display through March 23) is a prime example: Called “Unmonumental,” it’s a multi-artist display of found-art sculptures, collages, audio works and Internet-based montages that has been evolving since its debut. You can’t get much more contemporary than that.

The New Museum is located at 235 Bowery. Closed Monday and Tuesday, general admission is $12, $6 for students and free for children 18 and younger. More information is available at www.newmuseum.org/.

Newseum
If there’s an “art” to journalism, you’ll find it on display come spring at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Currently under construction three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the $450-million, seven-level museum is set to open April 11.

The facility will feature 14 galleries, 15 theaters and 250,000 square feet of exhibit space dedicated to the proposition that journalists provide the first draft of history. From Colonial-era “broadsides” to today’s headlines, the museum will tell that story through thousands of images, artifacts and interactive exhibits.

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In the Front Pages Gallery, for example, visitors will be able to read the day’s front pages of up to 80 papers from around the globe; in the World News Gallery, they can get a sense of the dangers journalists often face in getting that news. Other galleries highlight the evolution of electronic media, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, the Newseum will offer free admission on April 11 (first-come, first-served). Afterwards, general admission will be $20 (ages 13–64), with discounts for students, seniors and children. Visit www.newseum.org/ for complete details.

National Museum of Crime & Punishment
Come May, visitors to the nation’s capital will be able to get another perspective on popular culture with the opening of the National Museum of Crime & Punishment (NMCP). Located two blocks north of the Newseum, the three-floor, 28,000-square-foot museum will delve into the history of crime, those who commit it and the consequences of getting caught.

Like the Newseum, the crime museum will be highly interactive. Visitors will be able to conduct simulated police chases, test their skills on an FBI “shooting range,” and pursue their CSI fantasies by using forensic technology to solve a mystery. Presumably, the museum’s gas chamber, electric chair and other implements of ultimate punishment will not be interactive.

NMCP will be sited at 575 7th St. NW. General admission will be $17.95, plus tax (ages 12–59), with discounts for seniors, students and younger children. For more information, go to www.crimemuseum.org/.

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