While New York City is home to internationally renowned museums like The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is also the haven of countless incubators of aesthetic expression—art galleries. Clustered predominantly in and around neighborhoods like Chelsea, the Lower East Side, the Upper East Side and Brooklyn's Williamsburg, these exhibition spaces are celebrated both for the pieces they house and for their accessibility. Galleries are open to the public generally from Tuesdays through Saturdays, free of charge—which includes glamorous opening-night receptions where sightings of celebrities and art-world titans are as prevalent as the wine served (also free). And although they're sprinkled throughout NYC, dense concentrations in the aforementioned areas make it easy to hop from one show to the next. We've assembled the following guide to help you navigate some of the City's most gallery-rich locales.
Warehouses and auto-body shops once dominated the westernmost blocks of Chelsea, between 10th and 11th Avenues from West 18th through West 28th Streets. Over the past two decades, though, SoHo galleries seeking lower rents gradually moved uptown and into these sprawling spaces, transforming Chelsea into the nucleus of the City's modern-art world. Chelsea galleries tend to be vast spaces that host blockbuster shows by established modern artists from the likes of Chuck Close, Zhang Huan and Jeff Koons. Thursday nights are particularly exciting here, as galleries all over the neighborhood open their doors and uncork bottles of wine for glitzy opening nights; in fact, the atmosphere on some streets—such as West 25th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, where a few buildings house multiple galleries—is that of a bona fide block party. One of Chelsea's most prestigious names, Gagosian Gallery has locations on West 21st and West 24th Streets (as well as outposts on the Upper East Side, in California and in four international cities) and represents virtuosos like sculptor Richard Serra, mixed-media artist Mike Kelley and painter-sculptor Anselm Reyle. Housed in a staggering 30,000-square-foot space, David Zwirner represents innovative artists (like Dan Flavin, Fred Sandback and R. Crumb) who often work with unexpected media (fluorescent lights, yarn and comic books, respectively). 303 Gallery raises eyebrows with exhibitions like Sue Williams' Al-Qaeda is the CIA (which opened September 18), and both Luhring Augustine and Friedrich Petzel Gallery work with impressive rosters of painters, photographers, installation artists and more.
Lower East Side
Gallery culture on the LES is characterized by intimate spaces that showcase the work of up-and-coming and mid-career artists. Spaces are scattered throughout the neighborhood's narrow streets and low-rise tenement buildings, but the densest concentration can be found on and around Chrystie Street and the Bowery. An LES standby for almost a decade, Canada helped put the 'hood on the art-world map with imaginative shows (including this fall's solo show from Matt Connors). A couple of blocks uptown on Broome Street, White Box, another LES pioneer, attempts to highlight today's social and cultural issues by displaying works not only in the gallery but also in its street-level "VideoBox" and on billboards, bus shelters and public transportation vehicles via its Out-of-the-Box series. Half Gallery, a relative newcomer, and Thierry Goldberg Projects, owned by an Israeli-French husband-and-wife team, have been praised for their thoughtfully curated shows held in pint-size spaces. Featured exhibitions at Lehmann Maupin, a longtime Chelsea gallery that also has a Chrystie Street address, have included Yul, Yul Brynner: A Photographic Journey and Light Darkness, an installation from Iranian-born artist Shirazeh Houshiary. And The Hole has been making headlines since its opening in June 2010, when the founders of the beloved (and now shuttered) Deitch Projects began presenting works.
A hotbed of hipness and home to many of the City's bands, performers and visual artists, Williamsburg boasts an art scene dominated by the emerging creative engines that live there (and in nearby Bushwick and Greenpoint). Galleries here are relatively small compared with those in Chelsea, and the young-artist community lends to an of-the-people—although not entirely unpretentious—vibe. Like the Spice Gallery hosts a monthly dinner series, where attendees dine on delicious, family-style meals and delight in a discussion with the artist whose work is on display. As with Like the Spice, many of Williamsburg's galleries are concentrated in the southern section of the neighborhood near the Williamsburg Bridge. One of the first spots on the scene, Momenta Art moved to the 'hood in 1995, promoting the work of emerging and underrepresented artists. Both The Journal Gallery and Capricious Space are offshoots of photography magazines of the same names and show top-notch photographic pieces in cozy spaces. Also in the area, Art 101 supplements its poignant art shows with poetry readings, music nights and art talks.
57th Street/Upper East Side
Some of NYC's oldest and most prestigious galleries are located along 57th Street in Midtown and on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. The powerhouses in this corridor represent some of the 20th century's most accomplished artists, including Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd and Gerhard Richter, to name a few. Start your Midtown and Upper East Side gallery tour just south of Central Park at the Marlborough Gallery. A Midtown stronghold for nearly 50 years, Marlborough represents creators like lauded Colombian artist Fernando Botero, American sculptor Tom Otterness and American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, who exhibit their work both in the gallery and around the world. A few doors down, Marian Goodman Gallery has welcomed European artists to New York City for more than 30 years, while Mary Boone Gallery ignited the careers of Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger and more. Further east on 57th Street, The Pace Gallery is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a landmark retrospective of its nearly 700 exhibitions. Highlights of this not-to-be-missed showcase include masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Ad Reinhardt. From there, head uptown on Madison Avenue to discover designer boutiques punctuated by major art galleries. Situated between East 78th and East 79th Streets, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, the exclusive representative of the estate of Jack Tworkov, is now displaying works by Kenneth Noland, Allan D'Arcangelo and Roy Lichtenstein in its current exhibition Modern and Contemporary Masters.