The Ultimate NYC Art Guide

Brian Sloan

For more than a century—going back to events like the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1870 and the first Armory Show in 1913—New York City has been a world-renowned destination for art. The City is home to grand institutions like the Met and the Museum of Modern Art along with more specialized museums like the Noguchi Museum and Neue Galerie. NYC also serves as a major center for the international art market, with hundreds of commercial galleries in Manhattan and Brooklyn, annual art fairs that feature cutting-edge work and auction houses selling iconic paintings for millions—if you’re lucky, you might find an original Banksy (and if you’ve got some loose change, perhaps you can buy it).

Ready to dive in? Check out our roundup of the City’s major museums, galleries, auction houses and art fairs.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

The Big Museums

You can spend a day or more checking out the expansive collections and special exhibits at any of these institutions.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
What you’ll see: Ancient and classical sculpture; a diverse selection of paintings and photography; historical furnishings, medieval armor and even high fashion—all told, more than 2 million works of art reflecting five millennia of human creativity.
Don’t miss: The Temple of Dendur. Originally built around 15 BC in Egypt, it has been on display here since the 1970s.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
What you’ll see: A spiral-shaped building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, that is itself is a work of art. It’s filled with modern holdings and showcases special exhibits in its rotunda.
Don’t miss: The permanent Thannhauser Collection, which features works by Kandinsky and Picasso.

Museum of Modern Art
Neighborhood: Midtown
What you’ll see: Works by all the modern masters, from Picasso to Pollock to Warhol, along with contemporary exhibits in the museum’s newly expanded western wing.
Don’t miss: Monet’s Water Lilies series and van Gogh’s The Starry Night, two classics on permanent display.

Brooklyn Museum
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
What you’ll see: A vibrant mix of classic, modern and contemporary art. Historically, the museum has been known for its Egyptian Galleries and Mummy Chamber. In recent years, the curators have focused on multiculturalism and inclusivity, as seen in shows like Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall and Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.
Don’t miss: Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party—an installation of 39 place settings, each designed to honor a famous woman.

Whitney Museum of American Art
Neighborhood: Meatpacking District
What you’ll see: Work by American artists from the 20th and 21st centuries. The Whitney’s physical structure, with plentiful natural light and outdoor spaces, is another big draw.
Don’t miss: Mark Rothko’s mid-century color studies, a centerpiece of the collection.

Neighborhood: Long Island City
What you’ll see: Cutting-edge contemporary art and installations in a repurposed schoolhouse.
Don’t miss: James Turrell’s open-to-the-sky, site-specific installation Meeting is the kind of thing you have to see in person to fully appreciate; we recommend doing so close to dusk.

The Morgan Library & Museum. Photo: Graham Haber

Specialized Museums

New York City also plays host to smaller institutions, many of which focus on a specific style or art form.

The Bronx Museum of the Arts
Neighborhood: Grand Concourse
What you’ll see: Contemporary, cross-cultural work, with a focus on home-grown artists.
Don’t miss: Henry Chalfant’s photos of the City’s urban graffiti scene in the 1970s and ’80s

The Met Cloisters
Neighborhood: Washington Heights
What you’ll see: Medieval art presented in a complex of buildings that integrates period elements transported from Europe and reconstructed in New York City.
Don’t miss: Their collection of seven beautiful unicorn tapestries, which date back to the late 1400s.

The Noguchi Museum
Neighborhood: Astoria
What you’ll see: Work by Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi, whose studio was in Queens.
Don’t miss: The peaceful sculpture garden in back, which Noguchi personally designed.

Queens Museum
Neighborhood: Flushing
What you’ll see: Mixed media and experimental works alongside permanent standbys like the collection of Tiffany glass.
Don’t miss:The Panorama, a massive and incredibly detailed scale model of NYC, originally constructed for the 1964–65 World’s Fair.

Neue Galerie
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
What you’ll see: Early 20th-century work from Austria and Germany, including paintings from superstars like Klimt and Schiele.
Don’t miss: Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the remarkable Klimt painting that inspired the 2015 film The Woman in Gold.

The Frick Collection
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
What you’ll see: A lot of work from Europe, with emphasis on the Old Masters, in a stunning space that used to be the residence of industrialist Henry Frick.
Don’t miss: Rembrandt’s self-portrait, circa 1658.

The Morgan Library & Museum
Neighborhood: Murray Hill
What you’ll see: What started as a collection of rare manuscripts (courtesy of J. P. Morgan) that has expanded to include fine art, namely drawing and photography.
Don’t miss: One of its three copies of the original Gutenberg Bible—among only 50 remaining in the world.

Rubin Museum of Art
Neighborhood: Chelsea
What you’ll see: Art from the Himalayas, with a particular focus on Tibet, in a beautiful setting with a five-story spiral staircase at its center.
Don’t miss: The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room on the fourth floor. It’s a great place to sit and contemplate life, surrounded by ritual objects and works of art.

The New Museum
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
What you’ll see: Contemporary and cutting-edge art in a modern building on the Bowery, designed by noted Japanese firm Sanaa. The structure, which looks like a stack of blocks, is hard to miss.
Don’t miss: The museum’s store, which has a quirky collection of items including art, cameras, fragrances and clothing.

International Center of Photography
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
What you’ll see: Current photography from around the world, with work centered on social themes.

The Drawing Center
Neighborhood: Soho
What you’ll see: Established in 1977, this museum is the only one in the US to focus solely on drawings; featured artists have included Gerhard Richter and Eva Hesse.

The Leslie­–Lohman Museum of Art
Neighborhood: Soho
What you’ll see: Drawings, paintings and sculpture by LGBTQ+ artists from the past and present.

Galerie Lelong at Frieze. Courtesy, Frieze

Art Fairs

Museums mostly show works by established creators. The City’s art fairs offer a chance to look at the current state of the art (as it were) and catch the art world’s rising stars.

The Armory Show
Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen
When: Early March
What you’ll see: The latest in contemporary art, photography and sculpture on two Midtown piers jutting into the Hudson.

The Affordable Art Fair
Neighborhood: Chelsea
When: Late March and late September
What you’ll see: Art that will please both your eye and your wallet, with a focus on newer artists under 30.

Paris Photo New York
Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen
When: April
What you’ll see: New contemporary and experimental work in an ever-evolving art form.

Frieze New York
Neighborhood: Randall’s Island
When: Early May
What you’ll see: An island full of work by a wide range of international artists; it’s the City’s largest art fair.

Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
When: Late May and early September (Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends)
What you’ll see: Arts and crafts booths lined up along Washington Square Park, in a neighborhood long known for its creative community.

Enfilade Gallery. Courtesy, Sotheby's

Art Galleries and Auction Houses

Along with London and Paris, New York City is an international hub for the art market. Chelsea is the center of NYC’s storied commercial gallery scene; the former warehouse district has hundreds of austere white-walled spaces open free of charge to the public. Many openings take place on Thursday and Friday nights, making those ideal times to hop from gallery to gallery sipping wine and seeing the latest exhibits. Check out NY ArtBeat for upcoming openings and our gallery guide for details on what to find where. There are also concentrations of galleries on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Lower East Side.

Over the last 20 years, the City’s art scene has expanded across the East River to parts of Brooklyn, with many galleries in Williamsburg and Bushwick. One of the best ways to discover new artists is to visit an open studio in Bushwick, Greenpoint or Industry City, where you can see artists in their spaces and purchase their work directly.

The City’s main auction houses often sell works for millions of dollars and have galleries of their own. Christie’s, in Rockefeller Center, is open to the public for auctions and previews of work that will be sold. Sotheby’s, on the Upper East Side, has expansive gallery space across four floors. If you have some valuable art of your own, you can even bring it in for expert appraisal and sale—just call ahead to make arrangements.