An employee opens \'secret\' panels displaying paintings by Hogarth
Undertakings such as Google\'s Art Project (www.googleartproject.com), which digitise and create virtual tours of hundreds of works of art from around the world, are the next stage in André Malraux\'s idea of
a \"museum without walls\". While it might be preferable to tour the Van Gogh Museum from the comfort of your sofa rather than jostle with soggy tourists, something is undoubtedly lost in doing so.
Museums create a spectatorial experience. The way works of art are arranged, hung and lit within a room influences our perceptions of them. These museums often take this experience to another level: some spaces enhance the art, some buildings compete with it and others make you question its origins and context.
1. Sir John Soane\'s Museum, London, UK
Standing on the north side of Lincoln\'s Inn Fields, the entrance to Number 13 is discreet and unobtrusive, belying the treasures that lie within. The building is home to the collection of Sir John Soane, a 19th-century architect, who built the residence and arranged for it and its contents to be maintained \"as nearly as circumstances will admit in the state\".
This mandate of stasis is integral to the museum\'s unique character: the rooms are higgledy-piggeldy hoards of Classical antiquities, Renaissance art, architectural drawings, paintings and furniture preserved as they were arranged more than 200 years ago. They include masterpieces by Hogarth, Watteau, Canaletto and Turner, and there\'s an Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement. A restoration programme is underway but the main house remains open as usual. On the evening of the first Tuesday of every month, the museum is lit by candlelight, making it a particularly atmospheric and popular time to visit.
Sir John Soane\'s Museum, 13 Lincoln\'s Inn Fields, London, UK (www.soane.org; 00 44 20 7405 2107). Admission is free.
2. Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France
Marguerite and Aimé Maeght opened an art gallery in Paris in 1945 that went on to become one of the most important and influential galleries of the 20th century. It forged relationships with artists such as Giacometti, Miró, Calder and Braque. In 1964, the couple opened Fondation Maeght in the hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence, about an hour\'s drive from Nice.
With its distinctive building, lush gardens and a library containing more than 30,000 books, the foundation was an attempt to create the ideal setting for the appreciation of modern and contemporary art. Indeed, the place succeeds in rescuing art from the confines of a gallery. There\'s a courtyard with Giacometti sculptures, a pool tiled by Braque, Calder mobiles in the grounds and a labyrinth with work by Miró. This integration of art with environment makes it one of the most pleasurable places in the world to experience art.
Fondation Maeght, 623, chemin des Gardettes, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France (www.fondation-maeght.com; 00 33 4 93 32 81 63). Tickets cost €15 (Dh74) per person.
3. Dia:Beacon, New York, US
Just under an hour and a half\'s journey by train from New York\'s Grand Central Station, the town of Beacon on the banks of the Hudson River has become a centre for the arts in recent years. At the heart of this transformation from manufacturing town to cultural hub is the Dia:Beacon, which opened in 2003 and displays art from the 1960s to the present day.
Occupying a former box-printing factory built in 1929, the building has more than 22,000 sq m of gallery space. It is light, airy and vast - a wonderful place to view art as well as escape the hemmed-in feel of the city. On long-term display are works by artists such as Bruce Nauman, Gerhard Richter and Donald Judd, while the current exhibition is Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977. The attraction, though, is not just the work but the context. A place where each parking space has its own fruit tree makes a relaxing change for people from the nearby metropolis who usually struggle to find a parking place at all.
Dia:Beacon, 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, New York (www.diacenter.org; 00 1 845 440 0100). Admission costs $10 (Dh37) per person.