Wedding Venues

Gallery Glorious

Love among the oils: how to have a fabulous museum wedding

Have you ever lingered in a gallery after the closing bell has rung, and felt the excitement of having the artwork all to yourself? You and your guests can experience that same rush by holding your wedding in a museum. These majestic institutions can provide a spectacular alternative to the usual ceremony and reception venues.

Rooms filled with masterpieces need little decorating, and are great icebreakers for strangers and a treat for out-of-towners. Even if you can't tell a Degas from a Dali, celebrating your nuptials in such distinguished quarters will make your wedding utterly memorable. Here, a guide to navigating the galleries for an artful affair.

Amazing Space

Fancy some of the most famous canvases in early American art as a backdrop for your wedding toasts (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia), or a grand entrance hall ringed with marble columns, tapestries, and modern sculptures (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri)?

Whether you prefer dining under the gaze of Egyptian pharoahs (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore), or taking your vows within view of paintings by Goya (The Hispanic Society of America, New York City), American museums offer a dazzling range of options. Some museums even allow the festivities to spill out into adjacent sculpture gardens or onto roof terraces.

If you crave intimacy—and lower fees—consider smaller institutions such as historical societies, libraries, and college museums, which are often housed in landmark buildings that have loads of character and significant artwork.

Festive Feasts

Museums are all about the artwork, so fine dining within their walls tends to have low priority; indeed, many museums don't even have full kitchens. Unless they shelter an in-house restaurant, whose services you'll usually be required to use, you'll have to work with an outside caterer. Don't get your heart set on a particular company, though; museums often require that you choose from a list of preferred vendors that are already familiar with the gallery's strict confines and rules.

Be sure to ask the museum's event planner about any food and beverage bans; liquids that stain, such as red wine and tomato and cranberry juices, are often forbidden. At the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., for example, anyone drinking beer—or any other beverage—out of a bottle is busted. Forget about flambéed dishes like cherries jubilee and bananas Foster—few museums will allow open flames except outdoors (votives and hurricane lamps only, thank you).

And if you envision sipping a mojito three feet from a Monet, dream on: Most inner galleries are off limits to anyone holding food and drink, and there'll be someone deployed at each entrance to politely relieve you of your cocktail before you enter.

Decorative Masterpieces

Since you've most likely chosen a museum for the visual riches it has to offer, you probably won't need to add more than a few decorative touches: flowers, linens, and possibly a runner and a few potted plants or screens to help delineate an area for the ceremony. Find out if the information and admission kiosks in the lobby can be moved out of sight, and ask about hanging drapery to mask the gift-shop entrances.

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