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4 Arty Cities to Visit Instead of Your Annual Ski Trip
Hit up one of these four arty destinations and skip Gstaad for Tbilisi.
Art Stuff 28 Dec 2018

Christmas holidays are the best time of year to go on a social media cleanse, and here’s why. Each year, like some sort of subliminal cue, as soon as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” hits every airwave on this side of the Dead Sea, a flurry of envy-inducing vacation pics descends on your IG feed. For those of us that forgot to book our Tahitian villa or our five-star resort in the Alps, all the vacation porn can leave us feeling a little Grinch-like, to say the least.
But even if you don’t have a luxurious getaway, the likes of which would make Bella Hadid jealous, on your winter itinerary, there are many ways to make the most of your precious vacation time. This winter, why not mix a little business with a lot of pleasure and hit up some under-the-radar art cities?
Hit up one of these four arty destinations, each guaranteed to leave you refreshed and inspired—instead of broke, sunburnt and nursing a five-day hangover (lookin’ at you, Cabo). There’s one for each hemisphere—or practically; Lagos is just a hair north of the equator—so no matter where you live, no excuses about long travel times (unless you live in Australia… but then you should be used to flying 20 hours to get anywhere that’s not New Zealand).
And if you need another reason to bite the bullet and book that trip, think of it as an act of charity. Your travel ‘Grams will bring a very necessary breath of fresh air to our IG feeds, currently way oversaturated with ski slope pics.

1) Tbilisi, Georgia 

Whether you’re in the mood to see some cutting-edge contemporary photography or Stalin’s secret publishing house for revolutionary literature, Tbilisi’s got you covered. One of the biggest museum cities of the former Soviet Union, the Georgian capital is home to a wide range of stunning and rare art, accumulated over centuries and spanning the entire Eurasian continent.
But Tbilisi is anything but stuck in the past. With a new international art fair, the Tbilisi Art Fair (May 17-20), a host of wildly talented emerging artists, and exciting recent projects like ArtBeat, a virtual and mobile art gallery dedicated to bringing art to the global masses, Georgia is hurtling to the forefront of the contemporary art world at warp speed.
By Maia Naveriani.
By Maka Batiashvili.
By Beso Uznadze.
Don’t miss:
For an extensive collection of everything from archeology and numismatics to cinema and photography and contemporary Georgian art, head to the Georgian National Museum. You’ll find jewelry from the third century BCE, precious eighth century Qur’an manuscripts, Orthodox Christian fresco and ethnographic photos of Soviet life, all under one roof.
And if you were the kid that snoozed through her medieval art history class (no judgment), don’t worry—Tbilisi has contemporary art galore. The Museum of Modern Art Tbilisi holds regular exhibitions of living artists; just be aware that renowned Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli’s work dominates the space.
Zurab Tsereteli’s work at MoMA Tbilisi.
Next, check out FotographiaFotographia, a gallery that showcases limited edition photography by Georgian and international artists.
And when 5 o’clock rolls around, you’ll find a plethora of arty cafes and bars where you can mingle with the who’s who from the local art scene. Baia Dzagnidze of Culture Trip recommends Gabriadze Café, Moulin Electrique, Art-Café Home and Café Gallery.
And if you still want more, head to Fabrika Hostel, an expansive former Soviet sewing factory that now houses cafes, bars and shops in addition to the hostel itself. Local artists have brightened up the drab concrete exterior with their designs, making it a necessary stop on your Tbilisi tour.
You’ll also find artist house museums galore, one of the oldest silk museums in the world, a world-class museum of theatre, music, cinema and choreography… need I go on? And don’t forget the stunning architecture: blending ancient, Soviet and modern styles, that alone makes Tbilisi worth a visit.
Façade of the Orbeliani Bath House, built in the 17th century.
The former Ministry of Highways building.

2) Santa Fe, New Mexico

Canyon Gallery Road, the main artery of Santa Fe’s art market.
Unfortunately, your first thought when you hear “New Mexico” is probably more along the lines of Breaking Bad and trailer meth labs than exciting contemporary art. But what you might not know is that Santa Fe is the third-largest art market in the US—and coming in third to New York and L.A. ain’t too bad. But unlike the galleries in those cities, it’s uncommon for Santa Fe galleries to show curated solo or group exhibitions. The art scene here feels more like one giant art fair. If that tickles your fancy, Santa Fe is the arty destination for you.
This quaint little southwestern city has none of the hustle and bustle of the coastal art giants, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with its Wes Anderson-meets-Native American pueblo vibes, a friendly community atmosphere and the best tamales you’ll ever have. It’s no surprise that artists as diverse as Georgia O’Keeffe, Agnes Martin and Judy Chicago have long flocked to this place.
Santa Fe’s Denvers Arts District, lit up for First Friday Art Walk and Luminarias lights festival in December.
For 19 years, Santa Fe has been hosting an international art fair, Art Santa Fe, set for July 18-21, 2019. And for the eco-conscious, the Recycle Santa Fe Art Festival puts together an annual an art show by professional and student artist, a market and a fashion show, all displaying items made from recycled materials.
Don’t miss:
The self-appointed “magical half-mile,” Canyon Road climbs uphill from Santa Fe’s historic district. And unlike Robertson or the Lower East Side, this is an arts district where you’ll—gasp!—hear birds chirping, leaves rustling, wind chimes tinkling and fountains gurgling as you stroll along. Set aside an afternoon to discover a wide array of art, from contemporary abstracts to Western or indigenous.
Also unlike Robertson or the Lower East Side, this is an arts district where you won’t feel out of place if you don’t rock up in ultra-chic vintage Maison Margiela—an old puffer jacket and sneakers will do just fine (and not even in an ironic, post-normcore streetwear sense). No snooty gallerinas judging you here.
Not your typical gallery walk.
Next, head downtown to the charming and adorable adobe building that is the New Mexico Museum of Art. This museum holds a plethora of modernist art created in New Mexico, including work by Stuart Davis, Florence Pierce, Agnes Martin and Mala Breuer, as well as lesser-known local artists.
New Mexico Museum of Art.
Agnes Martin, Untitled #6 (1980).
Another can’t-miss stop is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, nestled in Downtown Santa Fe just a stone’s throw away from the New Mexico Museum of Art. The museum owns over 3,000 pieces of O’Keeffe’s work and rotates the pieces on display throughout the year. In addition to the art itself, the exhibition sheds light on O’Keeffe’s creative process—and the stunning Santa Fe landscape that inspired her, which you can proceed to enjoy as soon as you walk outside. Because her work was so deeply rooted in her surroundings, seeing it in Santa Fe is necessary to fully absorb the impact. Die-hard fans can also visit O’Keeffe’s house and studio, an hour north in Abiquiu and available by appointment.
View of the cliffs from Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and worked.

3) Lagos, Nigeria

Before 2016, Lagos was a city brimming with art but with practically no art scene to speak of. But in the past three years, ART X Lagos, West Africa’s first international art fair, has been drawing important eyes from around the world to the region’s talent.
Poor infrastructure, a turbulent political climate and a lack of institutional support have forced many Nigerian artists seeking professional success to emigrate, usually to the West. Because of this unfortunate reality, ART X Lagos, as well as local galleries, tend to focus on both local and diaspora artists to paint a full picture of their culture’s artwork.
Ben Enwonwu, Tutu (1974). This seminal work in Nigerian history depicting a princess of the ancient Ife people, Tutu, a.k.a. the “African Mona Lisa,” disappeared for four decades before magically surfacing in a London apartment last year. It immediately went for $1.6 million at a London auction.
That said, it’s still worth it to skip your next safari and head to Lagos for an art-filled adventure. The national museum might be crumbling and in desperate need of AC and a fresh coat of paint, but broaden your gaze and you’ll realize that art is everywhere: on the walls, in the clothing, and even in the air itself—or so it seems.
Yinka Shonibare MBE talking about his beginnings as an artist at ART X Lagos 2018.
Don’t miss:
The Nike Art Center, once proclaimed Nigeria’s unofficial national gallery by artist and historian Peju Layiwola, should be your first stop off the plane. Founded by artist and designer Nike Davies Okundaye, who has worked extensively to preserve traditional Nigerian methods of weaving and dying fabric, the Nike Art Center looks nothing like the sparse, modernist galleries of Chelsea and Berlin. Every inch of wall space is crammed with canvases, as if the handlers had been given the instructions that absolutely no sliver of white can show through. The result? A slightly overwhelming but evocative mash-up of multicolored canvases that echoes the crazy, bold murals decorating the city outside.
Next up, SMO Contemporary Art. This isn’t your traditional brick-and-mortal gallery but an organization that holds exhibitions of African and diaspora artists in rotating traditional and non-traditional spaces, from the National Museum to the Wheatbaker Hotel.
Founded by activist, collector and filmmaker Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, SMO Contemporary represents some 60-odd artists and hosting talks and events around the city, making it a major player on the Lagos art scene. If you’re in Lagos, be sure to look up their events calendar to find our where their latest exhibitions are on.
Victor Butler, The Lure of the Moon (2017) .
Last but not least, pop into Arthouse Contemporary – The Space for your final dose of contemporary art. This Lagos-based auction house also runs a gallery space that showcases solo and group shows of emerging and established Nigerian artists.
Ngozi Schommers gives a tour of her work at Omenka Gallery.
And while we all love to dip into an air-conditioned gallery on a sweaty, humid day (actually, unclear on the air conditioning status), the best place to see art in Lagos might be the streets. From stunning graffiti to monumental public sculptures, the streets of Lagos are brimming with art, bringing a truly democratic spirit to the art community.

4) São Paulo

Street art in São Paulo.
Ever since the first São Paulo Biennial in 1951 kicked off Brazil’s contemporary art scene, the city has remained an undeniable hot spot on the global art map. Yet for decades, geographic isolation and nagging euro-centrism in the international art market kept São Paulo sidelined while major players like Venice, New York and London continued to steal the show.
But no longer. Since 2005, artists, collectors, galleries and dealers have been flocking to the annual SP-Arte fair. Walk through some parts of São Paulo and you’ll see for yourself: every other wall has a mural on it, and every other storefront is a gallery.
One of the wealthiest areas of Brazil, São Paulo is also the epicenter of the rapidly unfurling tornado that is the country’s contemporary art scene. With its lush natural landscape, turbulent and divisive history, eclectic racial profile and plenty of passion and strife all blending together to make potent fuel for inspiration, it’s no surprise that Brazilian artists have lately been churning out astonishing artwork.
Paulo Nimer Pjota, Ancient Smile Painting.
Adriano Costa, Tudo Vai Bem (All Goes Well) (2018).
Marina Perez Simão, untitled (2015).
Detail from piece by Sonia Gomes, from “A vida renasce, sempre” show at MAC Niterói, August 2018.
While recent political and economic crises, coupled with a lack of institutional support, have put Brazilian artists in a precarious situation, that hasn’t stopped them from creating stunning work—and it shouldn’t scare you away, either. Although the doors of the Brazilian art world are slowly cracking open and works are beginning to trickle out into foreign art fairs, galleries and collections, much of the crème-de-la-crème of Brazilian art remains firmly locked in the (still mostly closed-off) national art circuit.
Feeling inspired to do your part in sharing this stunning visual culture with the outside world? Do everyone a favor and bring some artwork home with you.
Don’t miss:
Mendes Wood DM Gallery, founded in 2010, is one of the big honchos of São Paulo’s gallery scene. With branches in New York and Brussels and standing invites to Basel and Frieze, Mendes Wood DM is the place to discover the hottest Brazilian contemporary artists, as well as catch up on top-notch international artwork.
Next up is Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion. Designed by famed architect Oscar Niemeyer to host the São Paulo Biennal, it’s basically the Guggenheim on steroids. Located inside Ibirapuera Park, the pavilion is heritage-listed and now home to SP-Arte. But even if you miss the fairs, it’s still worth spending an afternoon strolling through its undulating balconies, each curve a magnificent works of art in itself.
Another jaw-dropping example of modernist architecture, this one designed by Lina Bo Bardi, is the São Paulo Museum of Art. When it opened its doors in 1947, it was the first modern art museum in the country.
To this day, it boasts the largest collection of European art in the Southern Hemisphere, but don’t worry—MASP is by no means full of crusty portraits of long-dead counts and bishops. Its programming is so bold and forward-thinking and it would satisfy even bell hooks’ thirst for the radical. Histories of sexuality, Afro-Atlantic histories and histories of feminism/women are just three recent themes that set the tone for its exhibitions.
Also worth checking out are the glass display easels on the second floor, transparent stands that prop up the work which supposedly allow visitors to forge their own paths through the gallery. My museum, my choice?
Afterwards, pop into the Pinacoteca, the city’s oldest art museum that focuses mostly on Brazilian art from the nineteenth century onward. The phenomenal “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985” show traveled there this September by way of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Brooklyn Museum, which should give you some idea of the caliber of exhibitions to expect.
Wrap up your museum tour with Museu de Arte Moderna, another of the oldest modern art museums in Latin America. Designed by the same architect who did the MASP, the MAM apparently has a killer restaurant-bar, making it the perfect last stop of the day before dinner (and, of course, copious caipïrinhas—you’ve earned them!).
If you want to keep the party (and the arty #mood) going, head to Mirante 9 de Juhlo, a bar tucked just behind the MASP, or Red Bull Station, a five-floor extravaganza complete with a rooftop terrace with a not-to-miss view of the city. And if you’re in the mood to people-watch São Paolo’s art crowd over a savory bite, head to Riviera, Nou or Balcão.
A very vibey happy hour at Red Bull Station.

Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via @georgiateam, @maia.naveriani, @batiashvilimaka, @u.z.n.a.d.z.e, @avemaroo, @callingmag, @dgogsh, @matad0rka, Concrete and kitsch, Huffington Post, @denversartdistrict, @herndonforge, @ajinkya.rao, New Mexico Museum of Art, @okeeffemuseum, Apollo Magazine, @artxlagos, Hostels.ng, @smocontemporaryart, @arthousecontemporary, @lekkirepublic, @sponeway, @paulopjota, Mendes Wood DM, @mendeswooddm, My Art Guides, This is My Happiness, Museeum, ArchDaily, @redbullstation

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