Modern Art

Nine Weirdly Shaped Museums From Amsterdam to Akron (Photos)

From Amsterdam’s new bathtub-shaped addition to its staid Stedelijk Museum to the South Korea Toilet Museum, check out art’s oddest new homes.

clocckwise from top left Getty;Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMAPRESS.com, via Newscom (lower left)

clocckwise from top left Getty;Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMAPRESS.com, via Newscom (lower left)

It’s only fitting that a museum’s exterior should be as noteworthy as the exhibits within. But to what end? Amsterdam just unveiled its $170 million bathtub-shaped museum to house some of the country’s finest works. From a toilet-bowl shaped museum to one that takes the shape of a giant insect, these guardians of art bring modern architecture to new extremes—and, for the most part, pull it off.

Sander NieuwSander Nieuwenhuys/ Hollandse Hoogte, via Redux

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

After several years and several millions of dollars, Amsterdam has finally been graced with the new Stedelijk Museum, and it’s shaped (drumroll, please) like a bathtub. Yes, a $170 million, 130,000-square-foot bathtub now sits along the backside of the old Stedelijk—a 19th-century red-brick building that looks positively stuffy in comparison. While the old Stedelijk was a pioneer in modern-art collections as well as postwar European design, writes New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman, the new bathtub design looks like Amsterdam’s desperate attempt to compete with Bilbao’s Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim.

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Guggenheim Bilbao

Frank Gehry’s titanium, glass, and limestone spectacle has turned heads since it opened in Bilbao, Spain, in 1997. The Basque city’s breathtaking building is one of five Guggenheim museums around the world, and arguably the most interesting—at least from the outside.

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Royal Ontario Museum Extension, Toronto

In 2007, the Royal Ontario Museum got an extension now known as the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. It’s named both for its benefactor, Canadian business magnate and philanthropist Michael Lee-Chin, and for the fact that, from the street, the extension looks like a crystal jutting out of the ground. About half of the Crystal is dedicated to gallery space; the rest includes a new entrance, lobby, gift shops, and restaurants—one of which offers a panoramic view of downtown Toronto. Twenty percent of the Crystal’s facade is windows, and the entire thing is covered in champagne-colored anodized aluminum, which makes it shimmer in the sun and glow from the lights of the city at night.

Nick Guttridge/Getty

The Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art

Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art isn’t as mind-bending as Bilbao’s Guggenheim or as flashy as the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal but has been hailed by The New York Times as “the most important American building to be completed since the Cold War.” Opened in 1998, the redesigned Contemporary Arts Center, which honors two of the museum’s major donors, Lois and Richard Rosenthal, was Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid’s first American project.

Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters, via Landov

South Korea Toilet Museum

Amsterdam’s new Stedelijk is hardly the first museum to use a bathroom fixture for design inspiration. But whereas the bathtub-shaped Stedelijk houses modern art, South Korea’s toilet museum doesn’t just look like a bathroom bowl, it’s part of a larger theme park celebrating perhaps one of the most valuable, yet overlooked, household amenities. While the museum is certainly entertaining—displaying toilet-themed art and peddling poop-shaped souvenirs in the gift shop—it’s also educational. Several of the museum’s exhibits are dedicated to the global health benefits that toilets provide.

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National Museum of Art, Osaka

Located on the island of Nakanoshima, just five minutes west of central Osaka between the Dojima and Tosabori rivers, is what looks like a giant insect with its wings in the air. Hidden beneath the steel frame and glass behemoth designed by architects Cesar Pelli & Associates is Osaka’s subterranean National Museum of Art.

Jerry Holt/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMAPRESS.com, via Newscom

Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis

It resembles the forbidding compound of an evil fairy-tale villain, but Minneapolis's multilayered museum actually has two sides: the brick façade facing the University of Minnesota campus, and the jumble of brushed-steel sheets facing outward, meant as an abstract representation of a waterfall and a fish. Designed by Frank Gehry, the building hosts an array of art, ancient and modern.

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The Akron Art Museum

Strangely angular and multifaceted, Ohio's Akron Art Museum is a mix of styles and centuries: the structure hosts a three-story glass lobby attached to the older, 19th-century brick building. “The dream of the architect is to get rid of gravity,” lead Austrian architect Wolf D. Prix once said of the modernistic front. Inside, art ranges from the 1850s onward, but the outer façade is the real charmer.

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this gallery incorrectly identified the Guggenheim Museum as the Museum of Middle East Modern Art in Dubai.