If you're of the opinion that the only thing better than viewing great art is owning it, put these destinations on your travel itinerary.
Not only are they cities renowned for their beauty, their museums and their architecture, they are the sites of the world's great art fairs. From ancient objects to art that was conceived yesterday, these carefully curated fairs offer the best of the best to their audiences.
Attending one is like walking through a museum where everything is for sale -- to anyone with adequate funds. Yet even if you're not equipped to buy, you can still visit these fairs, take part in the spectacle and feed your aspirations.
Maastricht, The Netherlands
Held annually in Maastricht, the European Fine Art Fair is the art fair by which all others are measured.
"There is no other fair like it," says Lawrence Steigrad, a New York City fine art dealer who specializes in Old Master paintings. At the fair in March, he sold an 1810 painting by Dutch artist Nicolaas Baur to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
That's the level of "shopper" who attends this fair: museum curators, serious collectors and those who aspire to be serious collectors. Calvin Klein and Kanye West are among those who have been spotted at the invitation-only preview day in recent years. They come because the quality and authenticity of every piece -- from antiquities to contemporary art -- undergoes what is acknowledged in the art world to be the strictest vetting process of any art fair.
After the preview day, the fair is open to all. The ticket price is considerable, but the chance to see and possibly purchase such art, antiques and objects is extraordinary. The next fair takes place March 14-23, 2014, and there's talk of launching a TEFAF Beijing fair as well.
Maastricht, in the southern Netherlands near Belgium, is known as a place where Amsterdam residents go for a weekend break.
The cafes and restaurants around Vrijthof Square are lively and comfortable. Selexyz Dominicanen, housed in a former Dominican church, is one of the world's most beautiful bookstores, and the Bonnefantenmuseum is an excellent place to see art all year round.
Ever since its debut four years ago, Masterpiece London has been gaining a reputation as a mini-TEFAF. Installed in a specially built pavilion on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London, Masterpiece specializes in fine art, antiques and design, and adds luxury goods -- cars, yachts, watches and wines -- to the mix of offerings.
Everything is vetted, everything is expensive, and Prince Harry was one of the VIP attendees in 2011. The list of exhibitors is hovering around 200 for this year's fair, which will take place June 26-July 3.
Yet the even newer fair that everyone's talking about now is Frieze Masters, an adjunct to Frieze London, both of which will take place October 17-20. While Frieze London showcases contemporary art, Frieze Masters, which premiered in 2012, is for everything pre-21st-century.
Last year's exhibitors included 90 international dealers; attendees included curators from around the world; and sales included ancient Mesopotamian artifacts, Renaissance marbles, a couple of Picassos and a Joan Miró painting with an eight-figure asking price.
When you're in London, it's never hard to find great art to visit at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Tate Modern the British Museum or the Royal Academy of Arts. Put the London Transport Museum on your list as well. Its "Poster Art 150 -- London Underground's Greatest Designs" exhibition (through October 27) features art that everyone can understand.
There are other biennial international art exhibitions, but when people talk about "the Biennale," they're talking about Venice.
This being an odd-numbered year, the city is preparing the 55th Venice Biennale -- a nearly six-month-long festival (June 1 to November 24) with pavilions and art installations throughout the city. An architecture Biennale runs in even-numbered years.
The Biennale seeps into every nook and cranny of the city, and the year won't be the only odd thing about it. For artists, the chance to represent their countries at the Venice Biennale can be a career-making moment. The path to greatness isn't easy, however, and neither is the art, which is typically conceptual, avant-garde and often (not to put too fine a point on it) just plain weird.
Of the 88 nations represented by national pavilions, 10 are exhibiting for the first time. One is Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan whose installation includes a re-enactment of Robert Peary's 1909 expedition to the North Pole. The installation by Vincent J.F. Huang, representing Tuvalu (another first-time participant) involves suicidal penguins. Sarah Sze will represent the United States with an installation called "Triple Point." Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is one of four international artists who will create the installation in the German pavilion.
At times, it can seem that the Biennale is inescapable. Whether that's good or bad depends on your taste.
If, after seeing the newest of the new, you're longing for a cleansing immersion in classical or decorative art, the 11 museums of the Fondazione Musei Civici Venezia will satisfy you.
When it comes to art fairs that truly put their cities on the map, Art Basel tops the list. In 1970, three Basel gallery owners joined forces and invited their "gallerist" colleagues to Basel to exhibit the works of their current clients. Ninety galleries from 10 countries exhibited, more than 16,000 people attended, and with that one bold move, Basel became a modern and contemporary art pilgrimage destination.