Six of the Strangest Art Museums Around the World
This piece originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.
For those begging for a museum experience beyond ankle-aching walk-throughs glancing at portraits and landscapes: there's hope. Toilet seat lids, volcanic ash, corn—these are just a few of the materials to create the masterpieces in the world's weirdest museums.
Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas
Former master plumber Barney Smith spent so many years fixing toilets that the ceramic basins turned into an unlikely creative escape. Incorporating mixed media like volcanic ash and casket handles, the 94-year-old artist has created over 1,100 pieces using toilet seat lids, many which chronicle various milestones in his life—from commemorating a trip he took with his wife to celebrating his 90th birthday. Like any true master, none of his pieces are for sale, and a visit to the San Antonio museum (actually his garage) is by appointment only.
Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota
Jerry and Pat Donaho/Flickr
Oftentimes, the buildings that house the greatest works of art are just as impressive as the pieces themselves. Like the Louvre or the Guggenheim, the Corn Palace is an architecturally stunning structure, with onion domes and colorful minarets like what you’d find on Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral. But look closer, and you’ll discover an exterior composed of incredible murals of—you guessed it—corn. Each year, local artists redesign the larger-than-life pieces according to a new theme. It’s a popular venue for concerts and festivals, but no fee is necessary for admiring it from the outside.
Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia
Museum of Broken Relationships
Still holding onto that box of love notes from your past beau? The Museum of Broken Relationships was dreamt up by an Croatian couple after ending their four-year relationship, and is open to donations of personal objects left over from previous lovers. On display: Valentine’s Day teddy bears, nostalgic photographs, a wedding dress, and even an ax (therapeutically used to destroy furniture left behind). At the interactive "Confessional,” visitors can store objects or record their own message to be part of art history.
Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri
Missouri Division of Tourism
Sure, hairstyles can often be considered works of art (remember the "Rachel"?), but the trimmings left on the floor? They might seem more suited for the garbage—but don't tell that to Leila Cohoon, who has created and maintained the only hair museum in the world, located in Independence, Missouri. Once a common artistic expression in the Victorian era to remember loved ones, the hobby has now become this former cosmetologist life's mission. On view are hundreds of wreaths and thousands of jewelry items made from real-life human hair—including those from Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, and Queen Victoria.
Matchstick Marvels Museum in Gladbrook, Iowa
Courtesy of Matchstick Marvels Museum
Talk about a spark of creative genius. Iowan artist Patrick Acton’s incredibly intricate miniatures of famous buildings entirely out of matchsticks are now on public view. Among the 50 models, you’ll find perfect mini replicas of the U.S. Capitol Building, the Iowa governor's mansion, and the Challenger space shuttle—some of which individually consist of over 478,000 matchsticks. Can't make it to the Midwest? Ripley's Believe It or Not museums around the world have purchased several of Acton’s pieces for permanent display.
The New York Earth Room in New York City
Alamy Stock Photo
This piece of artwork is literally a pile of dirt wouldn't be an insult. Since 1980, this loft space in New York’s SoHo has been attracting visitors to its Earth Room, covered in 280,000 pounds of soil. Conceived by Walter de Maria in 1977, the unusual permanent contemporary art installation is meant provide a natural sanctuary in the busy city—though stepping on it is, unfortunately, strictly prohibited.