A Global Guide to Extreme Art Vacations


Consider yourself brave? Outlandish? The kind of person who, in the privacy of your own home, contemplates trading it all in for a shot at competitive luge? Or do you prefer to read about the world in books, rather than experience it directly? A desk jockey with a Kayak/Qixo obsession, forever running the numbers on the ticket to Bangkok you’ll never buy?

Either way, you’ll find some serious inspiration in our list of the world’s most extreme art vacations. Use them for fuel for your next hijinks, or simply read on, and weep with relief in the knowledge that you’re safe at home.

Photo credit: Madrid-Mesa

Get Naked for Art’s Sake

Sure, you could travel to museums abroad – always a refreshing change, particularly if the thought of seeing Madame X or Monet’s Water Lilies for the millionth time makes you sick. But why not see the world and participate in an artwork, by volunteering for one of Spencer Tunick’s portraits or Santiago Sierra’s films? Not only will you get to appreciate the Alps, or experience the cafes of Madrid, you’ll be serving a higher purpose. You know, kind of like “alternative spring break” with Habitat for Humanity. Oh, except you’ll have to tell Spencer Tunick your skin tone in advance (a guy’s got to plan!). And you’ll have to get naked. Also maybe have anal sex with strangers. Which someone else will benefit from in perpetuity. But hey, you’ll always have the memories, right?

Photo credit: Jason deCaires Taylor

Cancun’s Underwater Museum

There are some 400 sculptures in the Cancun Underwater Museum, located on the ocean’s floor just off the coast of Isla Mujeres. Jason deCaires Taylor, the artist who designed the figures, spent 18 months on the project – which ultimately comprised 120 tons of cement and 400 kilograms of silicone.

Compared with MoMA, the museum’s price of admission (nada) looks pretty good. But you’ll have to wear scuba equipment to get down and dirty with the fishes, and, unless you’re an expert scuba diver, you’ll probably benefit from hiring a guide.

Photo credit: Lagom Design

Sweden’s Treehouse Hotel

“Why not create a comfortable, well designed hotel which allows visitors to live in harmony with nature amongst the trees?”

We could think of a few reasons. But we are sustainable people! We saw the documentary about Julia “Butterfly” Hill. We recycle toilet paper tubes, and we even think about composting! We can roll with the trees.

At the Tree Hotel, in Harads, Sweden – as much an architectural feat as it is a boutique destination – visitors stay in their own tree. Rooms include the Mirrorcube, the Bird’s Nest, the Blue Cone, the Cabin, and the UFO, each designed by a different architect, for a different tree. If that isn’t exciting enough, you can also look forward to passing the time by taking a “midnight ride with wonderful taste sensations” or trying “forestry work with a horse.”

Photo credit: Seattle Journal of Commerce

Germany’s Extreme Opera Festival

This summer is the 100th anniversary of the Bayreuth Festival, and the featured operas include Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhauser, and Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (Hitler’s favorite). If you don’t think three weeks of German opera is extreme, then you’re not a Jew from Toronto.

The Wagners, as in Richard, have maintained control of the Bayreuth Festival since 1876; Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner, Richard’s great-granddaughters, currently run the show. (To their credit, they are said to have employed historians to look at the family’s ties to the Nazis from the 1920s and beyond.)

But fans of the “Ring” cycle, looking for their fix of Wotan and his daughter, Brunnhilde, will be disappointed: the next performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen is slated for 2013.

Photo credit: Melkorka Magnúsdóttir

Iceland’s Penis Museum

Come for the collection of 219 penises and “penile parts,” which represent nearly all of the mammals in Iceland. Stay for the four “legally-certified tokens… belonging to Homo Sapiens,” the poor bastards.

But that’s not all. The Icelandic Phallological Museum also features a phallus that once belonged to a “rogue polar bear.” (Sarah Palin jokes commence!) And its collection includes 300 penis-related “artistic oddments and other practical utensils.”

(Dear readers, does a dildo count as a practical utensil? Or are we talking about a spoon?)

Final piece of irresistible information: the museum’s founder was set on his course back in 1974, when he was presented a pizzle, or bull’s penis, to use as a “whip for the animals.”

Photo credit: Shira Brettman

Burning Man’s Midsummer Freakout

Split the difference between the Venice Biennale and Bonnaroo, and you have … Burning Man? Less the collectors, gallerists, shows of national imperialism… OK, maybe not. But what’s a post about extreme art vacations without a Burning Man mention? N.B.: This doesn’t mean that a few overwhelming days of sex, drugs, outlandish outfits, and the desert make you an artist. You could, however, probably tell your boss you were going to an out of town “exhibition” and get away with it.

Photo Credit: Heather Culligan

Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty

You’ll need four-wheel drive, a bit of planning, plenty of water, and a dash of luck: Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson’s 15-foot, 1970 basalt earthwork, in the Great Salt Lake, isn’t always visible. It depends on the water levels of the Great Salt Lake, which fluctuate seasonally.

Over its 40-year history, the sculpture – owned and preserved by the Dia Art Foundation – has been threatened by bids to drill for oil, along with other natural resources. But thanks to Dia and the Fine Arts Museum in Utah, among others, it’s still safe and sound. Call me a cynic, but if earthworks are your thing, I’d be sure to put this first on my list.

Photo credit: Bluelemur

Peru’s Ancient Earthworks

The Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and the Pampas de Jumana, in Peru, are an earthwork extraordinaire. These 450 kilometers of lines scratched into the earth depict, among other creatures, a monkey, a spider, lizard, hummingbird, killer whales, and, largest of all, a pelican (coming in at 285 meters). They date from somewhere between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D., and are a designated UNESCO heritage site. Despite extensive scholarly work about who created them and why, the true meaning of the lines remains a mystery.

You know what that means. Pull on your anthropologist’s hat, get thee to the Andean foothills, and get to work. (Confidential to desk jockeys: mix yourself a pisco sour, buy a book about the ancient world on your Kindle, and ruminate.)