72 hours in Madrid, Spain

How much time do you need to visit Museo Reina Sofia, Museo Nacional del Prado, Caixa Forum, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, Spain?

More than the measly 72 hours that I spent in Madrid. Some say they could spend an entire day at each of these museums, without even coming close to experiencing all their riches. Others, like those museum-goers with short attention spans, who grow impatient after a half-hour, and just make a mad dash to see a couple storied masterpieces and maybe take a quick peek at the temporary exhibition space before heading to next big tourist attraction.

Well, how about 45 minutes (the average museum visit for tourists)? Is it possible to enjoy all the treasures of a world-class museum in such a short amount of time? I think not. You won’t even make it through the door. Since, the line to get inside takes at least one-hour. Ever since Jean-Luc Godard sent a trio of protagonists running through the Louvre attempting to break Jimmy Johnson, the American’s world record for the shortest visit to the Louvre of 9 minutes and 45 seconds in Bande à Part, many have fantasized about short museum visits.

Rambling aside, I have some time saving suggestions for you. To avoid bottleneck and dense crowds, visit these museums early in the day when they first open around 9:00 a.m. Also, buy the Paseo del Arte (access to Museo Reina Sofia, Museo Nacional del Prado, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, 21,60€), which allows you to skip the excruciatingly long lines to get inside these museums, which are inevitably followed by throngs of tourists inside, herding around all the significant masterpieces.

Museo Nacional del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum. It features one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century. The Prado houses more works by Titan, Rubens, Velázquez and Goya than any other museum in the world, these are pivotal artists that shouldn’t be missed. Though, there are collections of English and Dutch painting, these collections are undoubtedly better in other European museums.

The Prado’s collection is especially sensuous, the Royal Spanish Family who acquired much of this collection, must have fallen in love with the lush painterly qualities of these masters. If you start to feel fatigued and overwhelmed by the grandeur of this collection, I suggest that you simply move through the galleries lingering for a few minutes, allowing yourself to be seduced by the sensual nature of the collection.

These are the most famous masterpieces at the Prado:

Francisco José de Goya, The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid: the executions on Principe Pio hill

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, The Family of Felipe IV, or Las Meninas

El Bosco, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Peter Paul Rubens, Pedro PabloThe Three Graces 

El Greco, The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest 

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Judith at the banquet of Holofernes 

Reina Sofia, photo taken by Juan Madrigal

The Museo Reina Sofia houses a much bigger collection of 20th century art than I had anticipated. In total, we spent over six hours roaming this vast art museum and we didn’t see everything. The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art. Highlights of the museum include excellent collections of Spain’s two most known 20th century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Certainly the most famous masterpiece in the museum is Picasso’s painting Guernica. The Reina Sofia’s collection includes a significant number of works by artists such as: Juan Gris, Joan Miro, Antoni Tapies, and Jorge Oteiza.

Interior of the Reina Sofia, Richard Serra sculpture photo by Juan Madrigal

The Reina Sofia also has amazing temporary exhibitions of artists whose work is both fantastic and knew to me.

Antoni Muntadas, Entre / Between.  (November 23, 2011 – March 26, 2012)
Muntadas is considered on the pioneers of media art and conceptual art in Spain. Much of Muntadas’ work is an inquiry into the nature of art institutions and their ecosystems of production-reception, the changing relations between public and private. We also saw another interesting exhibition of his artwork at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona MACBA.

Alighiero Boetti, Game Plan. October 5 – February 5, 2012
Boetti’s career was launched with Arte Povera, yet he distanced himself from the movement almost immediately. The retrospective includes his most famous series of embroidered maps of the world, Mappa, created between 1971 and his death in 1994. This is traveling exhibition has already visited the Tate, is currently on view at the LACMA and will be at the MOMA this summer.

Perhaps my patients were waning by the time I visited the Thyssen-Bornemisza, but I found it really difficult to enjoy this excessively eclectic collection. This museum does have a few masterpieces (that I can’t remember), but there isn’t much need to spend time mulling over this collection, especially if you are pressed for time. I think this is the museum that can safely be done in 45 minutes or less, by leisurely strolling through the long winding corridors, you will get the gist of this stately collection.

Staircase inside the CaixaForum, Madrid, Spain

Last but not least, the CaixaForum. This post-modern art gallery was created by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, which combined an old abandoned electrical station with new construction of floors which are encased with oxidized cast-iron, meant to be of similar color and weight as the brick below.

The museums exhibition schedule mirrors the buildings juxtaposition between historical and modern, by showing both contemporary and historical exhibitions. The contemporary exhibition, the Persistence of Geometry includes artworks by Hans Haacke, Rodney Graham, Rachel Whitread, Bruce Nauman, Dan Graham, et cetera. The Historical exhibition, Delacroix, a retrospective of the Romantic painter, Eugène Delacroix.

In the short amount of time I spent in Madrid, I saw a lot of art and most of it was fascinating. The next time I visit this city, I will visit all those museums except the Thyssen-Bornemisza and hopefully check out some of their alternative art institutions. If you have any advice let me know.


  1. type/police

    I hope we have more than 72 hours next time we go to Madrid!

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