815 Free Art Books from World Class Museums: The Met, the Guggenheim, the Getty & LACMA


What­ev­er else Banksy’s 2010 doc­u­men­tary Exit Through the Gift Shop sug­gests about the strange rela­tion­ship between the worlds of gallery and street art, its title alone hints at a seri­ous prob­lem with the art estab­lish­ment: muse­ums are expen­sive! Unless you are in Wash­ing­ton, DC, where most of the muse­ums are free, you must not only pony up an entrance fee (or “sug­gest­ed dona­tion”), but you must also, well, exit through the gift shop, where you’ll inevitably be tempt­ed to pur­chase some tchotchkes, swag, knick-knacks, or—more like­ly for art lovers—some beau­ti­ful, over­priced book with glossy, full-page repro­duc­tions of the works you rushed past with impa­tient fam­i­ly or stood on tip­toes to glimpse over the heads of tourist crowds.

It’s true, you may some­time have the good for­tune of get­ting to the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, the Get­ty, the Guggen­heim, or the LACMA on an off day, with all the time in the world to mill around and take it in. But if you’re any­thing like me, you’ll still find your­self hov­er­ing around the shelves and book tables, try­ing to con­vince your­self not to shell out upwards of $100 or more for some gor­geous cof­fee table vol­ume. (And that’s assum­ing you even get to New York or L.A. to vis­it these muse­ums at all.) Muse­um gift shop art books—whether they high­light the col­lec­tions, oth­er muse­ums, his­toric schools and move­ments, or the tech­niques and devel­op­ment of indi­vid­ual artists—are tan­ta­liz­ing objects, as are the cat­a­logs that accom­pa­ny exhi­bi­tions.

cezanne free art book

Online libraries cre­at­ed by major muse­ums have mit­i­gat­ed many of these issues of cost and dis­tance. While they won’t sub­sti­tute for the feel and smell of new books, nor proud­ly adorn your cof­fee table, hun­dreds of the vol­umes you might cov­et at the gift shop have been dig­i­tized and can be read and down­loaded for free. For exam­ple, if you head over to the Guggen­heim’s web­site, you can browse online cat­a­logs from his­toric exhibits, like that for the Paul Klee 1879–1940 exhib­it from 1967 (top). Then rum­mage through 108 free art books delv­ing into all kinds of mod­ern art.


The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art has 456 more books to read—and to download—in their online library. You can, for exam­ple, own a copy of The Age of Car­avag­gio as a PDF on your hard dri­ve, or you can read it online, along with titles cov­er­ing every imag­in­able school, peri­od, artist, and region—“five decades of Met pub­li­ca­tions on art his­to­ry, avail­able to read, down­load, and/or search for free.”

On the oth­er side of the coun­try, we have the impres­sive Get­ty muse­um, well over 200 of whose pub­li­ca­tions you can access imme­di­ate­ly with­out leav­ing your screen at the Get­ty Pub­li­ca­tions Vir­tu­al Library. There you’ll find “free dig­i­tal back­list titles from the Get­ty Pub­li­ca­tions archive,” like Cézanne in the Stu­dio, which you can read online or down­load as a PDF.


And if you hap­pen to be in Los Ange­les with time on your hands, I know you won’t deny your­self a trip to the fan­tas­tic L.A. Coun­ty Muse­um of Mod­ern Art. But whether or not you’re able to see its dizzy­ing­ly diverse col­lec­tion for your­self, or vis­it its gift shops, there’s lit­tle stop­ping you from brows­ing its online Read­ing Room, where you’ll find sev­er­al online titles free to read and down­load, like this excel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion of Edvard Munch’s lith­o­graphs, etch­ings, and wood­cuts. Whether you’re a stu­dent, a schol­ar, or sim­ply a devot­ed lover of art, your life will be great­ly enhanced by the hun­dreds of books in these free online col­lec­tions.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

Down­load 448 Free Art Books from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

The Guggen­heim Puts 109 Free Mod­ern Art Books Online

Down­load Over 250 Free Art Books From the Get­ty Muse­um

Down­load 35,000 Works of Art from the Nation­al Gallery, Includ­ing Mas­ter­pieces by Van Gogh, Gau­guin, Rem­brandt & More

Read Free Dig­i­tal Art Cat­a­logues from 9 World-Class Muse­ums, Thanks to the Pio­neer­ing Get­ty Foun­da­tion

Google Puts Over 57,000 Works of Art on the Web

Free Course: An Intro­duc­tion to the Art of the Ital­ian Renais­sance

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.