Free things to do in New York City: Art exhibitions

Discover gratis art exhibitions and gallery shows in our roundup of free things to do for the art-seeking set.

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Looking for some free things to do, art enthusiasts? Thought so. Which is why we found a bunch of exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout the city that won’t cost you a cent.


RECOMMENDED: Full list of free things to do in NYC 


Danh Vo, We the People

  • Critics choice
  • Free

In this remarkable project, Vo—a Danish artist living in Berlin whose family fled his native Vietnam for Denmark after the fall of Saigon—has created a full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty, in 250 unassembled pieces. Each segment has been constructed using the original material and method—copper sheeting over a wooden armature—devised by the monument's designer, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Vo has stated that he has no intention of ever assembling the parts, that the point of the work is to leave them separate as abstract sculptures brought closer to human scale. Different elements of We the People have previously exhibited, both indoors and out, and here, the Public Art Fund presents nearly a fifth of their total number, in concurrent installations at Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall Parks.

  1. Brooklyn Bridge Park Main St, at Fulton Ferry Landing, 11201
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Fri Dec 5
More info

Danh Vo, We the People

  • Critics choice
  • Free

In this remarkable project, Vo—a Danish artist living in Berlin whose family fled his native Vietnam for Denmark after the fall of Saigon—has created a full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty, in 250 unassembled pieces. Each segment has been constructed using the original material and method—copper sheeting over a wooden armature—devised by the monument's designer, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Vo has stated that he has no intention of ever assembling the parts, that the point of the work is to leave them separate as abstract sculptures brought closer to human scale. Different elements of We the People have previously exhibited, both indoors and out, and here, the Public Art Fund presents nearly a fifth of their total number, in concurrent installations at Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall Parks.

  1. City Hall Park Vesey to Chambers Sts, between Broadway and Park Row
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Fri Dec 5
More info

"Tom, Dick and Harry: The Everyday Man Series"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

If you ran into G.I. Joe on Scruff, would you "woof" at him? Artist Robert Figueroa's installation of Polaroid-like images of dolls, on view in Leslie-Lohman's Wooster Street Window Gallery, explores how we're quick to judge people based solely on their social-media and dating-app photos.

  1. Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art 26 Wooster St, between Canal and Grand Sts
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Sun Sep 28
More info

Sam Falls, "Light Over Time"

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice
  • Free

A process-oriented Los Angeles artist who works in a variety of media, Sam Falls has transformed Downtown Brooklyn’s MetroTech Commons into a playground for his interactive art. Exploring the passage of time through light and color, Falls displays several sculptural works that are activated by the viewer and will physically alter over time. His Untitled (Thermochromic bench), for example, changes color due to heat generated by sitters or the intensity of sunlight. A maze has been painted with multicolored layers of powder-coated aluminum; one side has protective UV coating while the other doesn’t, so that the piece will partially fade from exposure. But as it does, another layer of paint will eventually emerge and regenerate the original color. A set of teeter-totters feature geometric forms that collect rainwater, thus changing the distribution of weight. A giant wind chime is too big for an ordinary breeze to move it, so visitors do the job instead by pushing the chimes around. A more solitary experience is provided by a pair of white, aluminum shelters with tiny entrances and stained-glass skylights. The ambience within each of these “light rooms,” as the artist calls them, will change with the weather. Playful and thought-provoking, these laboratories of fun seek to engage the curious child inside all of us.—Paul Laster

  1. Public Art Fund at MetroTech Center Commons MetroTech Center Commons, Myrtle Ave, between Flatbush Ave and Jay St
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Fri May 29
More info

"Mike Kelley: Reconstructed History"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

It goes without saying that Kelley (1954–2012) had a jaundiced view of pretty much everything. In this group of works, he sends up U.S. history by defacing textbook illustrations of the founding fathers, etc., with doodles such as penises, swastikas and pigs' noses. Seen from the perspective of the unmotivated student at the back of the class, the images offer a piquant comment on American exceptionalism.

  1. Skarstedt Gallery 550 W 21st St, between Tenth and Eleventh Aves, 10011
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Sat Oct 25
More info

Saul Steinberg, "100th Anniversary Exhibition"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

The centennial of the famed New Yorker illustrator's birth is celebrated in this collection of his works in multiple mediums, including drawing and photography. Steinberg was famous for his refined style of drawing, which combined traces of Picasso and Pop Art with an aristocratic absurdism.

  1. Pace/MacGill 32 E 57th St, between Madison and Park Aves, ninth floor
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Sat Oct 18
More info

Saul Steinberg, "100th Anniversary Exhibition"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

The centennial of the famed New Yorker illustrator's birth is celebrated in this collection of his works in multiple mediums, including drawing and photography. Steinberg was famous for his refined style of drawing, which combined traces of Picasso and Pop Art with an aristocratic absurdism.

  1. Pace Gallery 32 E 57th St, between Madison and Park Aves
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Sat Oct 18
More info

Dubuffet | Barceló

  • Critics choice
  • Free

This shows juxtaposes paintings by renowned Frenchman Jean Dubuffet (1901–85) with those by the Spanish contemporary artist Miquel Barcelo, whose work is influenced by Dubuffet's figurative style and use of pronounced surface textures.

  1. Acquavella Galleries 18 E 79th St, between Fifth and Madison Aves, 10075
  2. Fri Sep 19
More info

Queer Book Diorama Show

  • Critics choice
  • Free

The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History and Lambda Literary Foundation bring you this unique exhibition in which artists created dioramas inspired by notable LGBT books, including Chelsea Girls, by Eileen Myles; Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel; and Dancer from the Dance, by Andrew Holleran.

  1. New York Public Library, Jefferson Market Library 425 Sixth Ave, between Christopher and W 10th Sts
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Wed Sep 24
More info

"That Obscure Object of Desire"

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice
  • Free

Titled after Luis Buñuel’s 1977 film about sexual obsession, this group show includes pieces from the 1940s to the present, and teases out formal and thematic connections among a nicely considered selection of Surrealist, Pop and contemporary artworks. The leitmotif here is the body reduced to parts: Tummies, breasts, lips, knees, buttocks and vulvas are reassembled into new and unsettling combinations or isolated as fetishized objects. Dorothea Tanning’s 1970 stuffed pink-fabrics stomach, complete with navel, is joined by Alina Szapocznikow’s 1966 resin lamp made from a cast of her own lips, and Anthea Hamilton’s 2010 clear Plexiglas chair in the form of a woman’s spread legs. Elsewhere, foam cubes covered in’60s-inspired fabrics overprinted with images of nude models—a collaboration between Hamilton and designer Julie Verhoeven—converse with photographer Robert Heinecken’s Figure Horizon #4 (1972), in which a woman’s naked body has been rearranged to resemble a panorama of mountains. Rounding out the exhibition are Surrealist Hans Bellmer’s photographs of doll parts recombined into bulging monstrosities, and an assemblage by Alisa Baremboym featuring an enormous screw cast in gel. The exhibition’s big attractions are Tanning and Szapocznikow, both women who brought a more nuanced view to Surrealism and Pop, respectively. A cynic might wonder whether the show is an attempt to recontextualize the frequently unsavory output of Heinecken and Bellmer by exhibiting their work wit

  1. Luxembourg & Dayan 64 E 77th St, between Madison and Park Aves, 10075
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Sat Oct 4
More info
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