The Art Museum in Modern Times

Charles Saumarez Smith

A compelling examination of the art museum from a renowned director, this sweeping book explores how architecture, vision, and funding have transformed art museums around the world over the past eighty years.

How have art museums changed in the past century? Where are they headed in the future? Charles Saumarez Smith is uniquely qualified to answer these questions, having been at the helm of three major institutions over the course of his distinguished career. For The Art Museum in Modern Times, Saumarez Smith has undertaken an odyssey, visiting art museums across the globe and examining how the experience of art is shaped by the buildings that house it.

His story starts with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, one of the first museums to focus squarely on the art of the present rather than the past. When it opened in 1939, MoMA’s boldly modernist building represented a stark riposte to the neoclassicism of most earlier art museums. From there, Saumarez Smith investigates dozens of other museums, including the Tate Modern in London, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the West Bund Museum in Shanghai, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He explores our shifting reasons for visiting museums, changes to the way exhibits are organized and displayed, and the spectacular new architectural landmarks that have become destinations in their own right.

Global in scope yet full of personal insight, this fully illustrated celebration of the modern art museum will appeal to art lovers, museum professionals, and museum goers alike.


Charles Saumarez Smith has written a deeply important and original book, drawing on a lifetime of experience in the worlds of art, museums, and culture. It combines humane and thoughtful generalizations about the place and purpose of galleries today with vivid evocations of particular art museums from around the world. Beautifully written and deftly constructed, it is a landmark work.

— Professor Sir David Cannadine, Dodge Professor of History, Princ

I love the style, tone and perspective, the personal experience present along the way, and the open mode of thinking and reflecting on what is seen. That is rare in museum literature and gives a special authority and also a thrill to the text.

— Professor Mari Lending, Professor of Architectural History and T

Lively, informative… The author has insider knowledge of the needs of present-day institutions dedicated to showing art… A good read.

— The New Criterion

A brisk tour through around forty art museums around the world… The diversity of museums in the book is rich and rewarding.

— A Daily Dose of Architecture Books

A work of art… Abounds with gorgeously reproduced black-and-white and color photos--of buildings and galleries, of their creators--that help the author tell the stories of each of 43 art spaces… Engaging [and] memorable.

— Shelf Awareness


Charles Saumarez Smith


Charles Saumarez Smith has been director of the United Kingdom’s National Portrait Gallery, director of the National Gallery, and secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy. He is the author of East London, The Company of Artists: The Origins of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and The National Gallery: A Short History, among other titles.