The Best Museum in Barcelona You’ve Never Heard Of

Barcelona, for me, will forever be associated with truck loads of museums. There is a museum for just about everything: Modern art? Check. Catalonian Contemporary Art? Architecture? Check Check. Chocolate? Yes, Chocolate. Check. In all fairness, that’s just my impression because we visited more museums in Barcelona than in Madrid and Seville combined.

We set out in search of classic art, wanting to first visit the Picasso museum. Go big, or go home, right?

Upon arrival, we were met with a line that disappeared down the narrow medieval street. Its length and its lack of progress towards the entrance had us quickly rethink our approach. “Go home,” was looking more appealing by the second. After a few minutes i had visions of Mr Os and i spending an entire day waiting just to get to the ticket counter. Not the smart way to spend ones time on holiday, for sure.

As we debated our options, Mr Os pulled out a pamphlet a young woman handed us in passing, on our way to the Picasso Museum. The brochure was for MEAM: Museu Europeu d’Art Modern and, as fate would have it, the MEAM was located just around the corner from the Picasso museum. Without tipping our hand to the hundred people in front of us, we casually stepped out of line and made our way to try our luck at a museum neither of us knew anything about.

While I’ve never found any museum visit to be “life changing” the MEAM certainly altered the course of our time in Barcelona. Up until that point, we had been somewhat underwhelmed by Barcelona. It was too much like New York or other major metropolitan cities with which we were familiar. It was crowded, and felt over run with tourists. Our first hotel off of Las Ramblas was loud with a somewhat shoddy room.

Simply put, nothing seemed to match what we’d been told to expect in Barcelona. To make matters worse, we’d left what was an amazing experience in Seville.But MEAM had the effect of hitting a “reset” button.

MEAM is actually located inside an 18th-Century Palace and is anchored by a large courtyard with a stone arch and sweeping stair case that leads to the second and third floor where the collection is housed. When the museum moved into the building, special attention was clearly paid to the restoration. The decorations, ceilings and walls have all received decorative awards. The result is a spectacular contrast between the physical structure of the museum and the modern art collection that calls MEAM home. It is truly remarkable and the architect artfully ties everything together (pun intended).

A glimpse down on the MEAM's ground floor courtyard.
A glimpse down on the MEAM’s ground floor courtyard.

Beyond the building, the collection itself is jaw dropping, unbelievably compelling, and for those of you familiar with me, I’m never this effusive in my praise. It is not hyperbole, though, just wording that I hope will convince you not to miss this stop.

The works range from sculpture to paintings. In fact, many of the paintings were so vivid, we mistook them for photographs.  Case in point: if you visit the MEAM website there is an image of a man with blue paint in his beard. This is a painting and even when standing right in front of it, your eyes will still argue that it’s a photo. This is not the case with every piece of art, but each piece stands on its own merits, and though pieces can be dramatically different from room to room, there is an overall common thread. If I had to suggest what I think it is, it would be the museum’s goal of selecting works that “stand out for their exquisite realism. Forcefully contemporary painting and sculpture that awaken the pleasure of the senses.”

One of my favorite pieces at MEAM. The level of detail in the sculpture is just mind-blowing.

As you wander through Barcelona, you’ll notice many of the museums and major tourist attractions are heavily promoted. This one is not. In fact, most people probably pass by it’s glint as quickly as stepping over an engagement ring in a gutter. Why isn’t it better known? Perhaps because the government promotes state funded places, versus private museums and exhibits. It’s a shame because this is one of Barcelona’s true gems. Truly, it is worth visiting while you are in Barcelona.

I’ll post a gallery with more of these amazing works later this week. One final note, many of the pieces contain nudity. It’s not gratuitous by any means but to be clear this is not a place to bring children as it can be jarring.

One of my favorite pieces of art at MEAM. It’s such an accurate depiction of how people stop in wonder to see what an artist is doing.

Author: Judi Kennedy

Wanderlust. A professional aunt, fitness enthusiast, dog owner and avid reader the rest of the time.

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