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. Mon Sep 1 - 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. Mon Sep 1 - Fri Dec 5
More info

Rachel Feinstein, Folly

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

Fascinated with fantasy, fairy tales and theatrical settings, Rachel Feinstein tackles her first public art project with her largest sculptural works to date. Ranging from 8 to 26 feet tall, her three architectural follies were commissioned as site-specific projects for Madison Square Park and were inspired by such diverse sources as Fellini’s films, the Ballets Russes, Piranesi’s etchings of fanciful ruins and Meissen porcelains. Her structures evoke empty stage sets that were left in storage too long. Feinstein began with sketches on paper that were cut out to make maquettes. These tabletop models were then disassembled, digitally enlarged and fabricated as powder-coated, contoured aluminum panels covered with vinyl decals to re-create the artist’s graphite outlines. Assembled on-site, with their proplike qualities clearly visible from the back, Feinstein’s ghostly pavilions seem to pop up from the surrounding landscape like 3-D illustrations from a giant children’s book. The tallest sculpture, Flying Ship, rises into the branches of three neighboring trees. It’s based on a 17th-century tale about a fool who attempts a journey to the moon. The smallest piece, Rococo Hut, alludes to Petit Trianon at Versailles where the doomed Bourbon monarch, Marie Antoinette, liked to play dress-up as a humble shepherdess. But it’s Cliff House, the grandest of the three follies, that takes viewers on a trip to the dark side with its haunting evocation of a ruin engulfed by nature, creating

  1. Madison Square Park 23rd St to 26th St, between Fifth and Madison Aves, 10010
  2. Mon Sep 1 - Sun Sep 7
More info

Jeff Koons, Split Rocker

  • Free

In a sort-of reprise of Puppy, his 1992 massive outdoor topiary, Koons is erecting another floral public monument on the plaza in front of Rockefeller Center. Instead of a dog, Split Rocker—which rises 37 feet and sprouts 50,000 flowering plants—depicts a giant toy head that’s half rocking horse (modeled after one belonging to the artist’s son) and half plastic dinosaur.

  1. Public Art Fund at Rockefeller Center Plaza 45 Rockefeller Plaza, between 49th and 50th Sts and Fifth and Sixth Aves
  2. Mon Sep 1 - Fri Sep 12
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. Mon Sep 1 - Sun Sep 28
More info

Sam Falls, "Light Over Time"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Falls enlivens Downtown Brooklyn with interactive sculptures that include a set of upright panels creating a maze, a pair of seesaws and a gigantic set of wind chimes, all made in pared-down, if colorful, style.

  1. Public Art Fund at MetroTech Center Commons MetroTech Center Commons, Myrtle Ave, between Flatbush Ave and Jay St
  2. Mon Sep 1 - Fri May 29
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. Mon Sep 1 - 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. Mon Sep 1 - Wed Sep 24
More info

Nancy Rubins, "Our Friend Fluid Metal"

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Critics choice
  • Free

The Gagosian Gallery roundup of Nancy Rubins’s latest sculptures represents the Los Angeles artist’s first show in New York since 2006. Rubins, of course, is known for making bold, large-scale aggregations out of like objects, creations that have included a 45-foot-high tornado of discarded appliances for an empty lot in Washington, D.C., and a suspended sculpture that strapped-together amalgam of mattresses and squashed Entenmann’s cakes for the 1995 Whitney Biennial. More recent works—starbursts of recycled canoes and vortices of airplane parts—have emphasized form over references to societal waste. The four sculptures here are made from vintage playground animals, the kind that rock back and forth on springs, massed together and held in equilibrium by a network of steel cables. The largest piece pushes out from one wall, cantilevering overhead like a blobby, multihued cloud. Three others, the size and shape of overgrown shrubs, mushroom from small bases on the floor. The rounded contours of the collected horses, ducks and frogs add to the impression that the works are frothing over. All of these creatures, made from aluminum originally destined to be recycled, were themselves cast from recycled metal. There are formal pleasures here, including the structures’ open, billowy shapes and the painterly use of found color (the occasional shots of bright orange or turquoise amid the dirty yellows, fleshy pinks, faded reds and dull mauves). However, the materials don’t achieve t

  1. Gagosian Gallery 522 W 21st St, between Tenth and Eleventh Aves
  2. Tue Sep 2 - Sat Sep 13
More info

Carl Ostendarp, "Blanks"

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

A pall of conflicting emotions seems to hang over Carl Ostendarp’s current exhibition, a mix of cheerfulness and depressive funk that finds expression through a series of monochrome canvases. Empty save for the artist’s initials, they’re carefully spaced around the room, coated in dampened shades of pink, yellow and orange. The lettering is large and crude, resembling something you might find on an ineptly executed yard-sale sign. The characters C and O bump up against the bottom edge of each painting, floating up and down (and sometimes apart) from one piece to the next. Put together in an animated sequence, they’d make a hypnotic, if somewhat bleak, screen saver. Ostendarp was part of a wave of Yale-trained painters during the early-to-mid-’90s who took a dyspeptic approach to reviving various art-historical genres. For Ostendarp, that meant ’70s-style minimalist abstraction done with a cartoonish touch—in this case, sending up a nearly forgotten category of site-specific painting that was a thing between 1965 and 1975. Ostendarp compounds the obscurity of the reference by naming each work after a noted player of the Hammond organ (e.g. Groove Holmes). While the paintings appear to be installed as they are for a reason, there is no sense of spatial dynamics here—only a numb presence. The works are meant as nihilistic parody, one where the artist’s signature serves as a self-canceling gesture. In this respect, the show’s title does more than just describe the relatively cl

  1. Elizabeth Dee Gallery 545 W 20th St, between Tenth and Eleventh Aves
  2. Tue Sep 2 - Sat Sep 6
More info
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