New York City’s art galleries are as varied and surprising as NYC itself. Thankfully, they’re mostly clustered into six main neighborhoods, each with its own artistic vibe. In this guide, we’ll show you where to go, the galleries you shouldn’t miss and an idea of the artists whose work you might see while you’re out. Regardless of what’s being shown, you’re guaranteed to encounter art that will amaze you—all for free.
When you’re in the mood for a stimulating walk, don’t just traverse the length of the High Line—disembark at 20th or 23rd Streets and spend an afternoon strolling around the City’s art epicenter. The Chelsea gallery district occupies about 10 blocks (from 18th to 28th Streets, between 10th and 11th Avenues), and features contemporary art in every medium. This is the place to see the biggest names alongside the most notable up-and-comers.
• Gagosian shows boldface names such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol and Andreas Gursky.
• Matthew Marks’ roster of legends include Jasper Johns and Nan Goldin.
• International powerhouse Hauser & Wirth shows intriguing newcomers.
• 1980s icon Mary Boone features artists who range from the universally known (Ross Bleckner) to the almost there (Ai Weiwei and KAWS).
• 303 Gallery’s top-flight names include multimedia artist Doug Aitken and sculptor Mary Heilmann.
• Luhring Augustine tends toward the edgy via Pipilotti Rist, Larry Clark and Christopher Wool.
• At Sikkema Jenkins, Kara Walker has caused a sensation with her bold paintings that address race and gender.
• Aperture focuses on photography (see what we did there?).
• David Zwirner’s range from the canonized (Piet Mondrian) to the all-but (Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon).
Lower East Side
Young artists may have moved their lofts to Brooklyn from the historically gritty Lower East Side, but plenty of their work remains on display here. And though the neighborhood is increasingly characterized by glitzy hotels and glittery bars, the predominant vibe of the work in this neighborhood is early career and edgy. The must-see galleries are gathered east of Bowery and between Houston and Grand Streets, abutting Chinatown and Nolita, making the district ideal for walking off brunch—or killing time while you’re waiting for a table.
• Gavin Brown’s Enterprise is reliably surprising, as seen in the work of sculptor Urs Fischer and video artist Michel Auder.
• Miguel Abreu concentrates on multimedia- and performance-focused newcomers.
• 47 Canal’s diverse offerings include Michele Abeles’ photo collages and Josh Kline’s political sculptures.
• Sargent’s Daughters features provocative female artists.
• Salon 94 Bowery shows crowd-pleasing artists like Marilyn Minter, Nate Lowman, Lyle Ashton Harris and David Benjamin Sherry.
Midtown is home to some of the City’s best and longest-running galleries. Marlborough and Pace date back to the early 1960s, and Tibor de Nagy—though it recently decamped to the Lower East Side—set up shop here back in the ’50s. At the area’s elegant spaces, you’ll find a wide range of works by big contemporary names and canonized masters. Clustered near Fifth Avenue, they’re ideal to pair with a trip to MoMA and Central Park.
• Marian Goodman’s stable includes a number of superstars, such as John Baldessari and Gerhard Richter.
• At Mary Boone, the celebrity gallerist shows top-flight talents like Barbara Kruger and Ai Weiwei, alongside major younger names like KAWS.
• Pace Gallery features legends like David Hockney and Mark Rothko, along with some kids named Picasso and De Kooning.
• Marlborough Gallery also maintains a stable of stars and has an outdoor sculpture patio.
• Francis M. Naumann Fine Art is a destination for the early surrealists and their modern acolytes.
Upper East Side
Befitting its tony reputation, the Upper East Side has a stately set of galleries, many in converted townhouses. Downtowners such as Gagosian have opened up outposts here, with a polished selection of work. The district is located in the mid-70s between Park Avenue and Central Park, but there are some outliers.
• Acquavella has a slate of big contemporary figures—you may catch a Pollock, Warhol or Rothko on view.
• Gagosian’s uptown branch shows British painters Damien Hirst and Cecily Brown, among others.
• Michael Werner specializes in paintings by modern masters.
• Gladstone 64 skews more impish than most in the area, with moody canvases from the likes of Elizabeth Peyton and Carroll Dunham (Lena’s dad).
In the 1970s and ’80s, Soho was the City’s best-known art district, though these days the neighborhood is more famous for its retail and restaurants. Still, there is plenty of work here that is not to be missed. The vibrant, modern vibe of the area’s top galleries goes perfectly with a shopping trip.
• Team Gallery shows Ryan McGinley and Cory Arcangel, two former enfant terribles who’ve grown into major contemporary figures.
• The Drawing Center’s work illustrates the power of the pen and pencil.
• Deitch Projects specializes in the eternally hip, from the likes of Suicide musician Alan Vega and Kenny Scharf.
• Peter Freeman Inc. focuses on 20th-century pop art and minimalism (think Mel Bochner and Richard Serra).
Williamsburg and Bushwick
If you want to be “down with the kids,” put these neighborhoods on your list and keep an eye on them for the next few years. At least one major Chelsea gallery has opened an additional location here, and although there hasn’t been an incoming flight of major gallerists, there are plenty of scrappy independents that show provocative, satisfying work. The adventure increases as you move east; the ones listed below are within shouting distance of the Morgan Avenue stop on the L train.
• The way-out outpost of the longtime Chelsea gallery Luhring Augustine Bushwick is mind-bendingly eclectic, with exhibits ranging from digital art by Mike Kelley to pieces from the Middle Ages.
• Microscope focuses on cutting-edge digital and performance art.
• Signal and Clearing show the cream of the crop of young Brooklyn artists (think Sebastian Black and Jordan Kasey).
A more established Brooklyn art neighborhood occupies about a five-block radius adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge and along the scenic waterfront. On the cobblestone streets you’ll find diverse offerings, both in artwork and exhibition spaces, from young newcomers to curators who’ve been at it for decades.
• Art in General is a nonprofit enterprise that’s been showcasing artists who are lesser known (but shouldn’t be) since 1981.
• United Photo Industries displays up-and-coming photographers who specialize in social documentary.
• Klompching Gallery has experimental photography by new and established artists.
• A.I.R. gives female artists a prominent neighborhood platform.