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 


"Grand Central Centennial Quilts"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Last spring, American Patchwork & Quilting magazine teamed up with local store the City Quilter to host a national contest for blankets inspired by the 100-year-old terminal. The grand prize, first- and second- place winners, and 27 finalists in this display draw from the building’s design elements—clocks, chandeliers and the iconic celestial ceiling—as well as each artist's connection to the historic New York landmark.

  1. New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex Grand Central Terminal, E 42nd St, between Lexington and Vanderbilt Aves
  2. Wed Apr 23 - Sun Jul 6
More info

Linda Simpson, "Pages"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Shutterbug and nightlife veteran Linda Simpson presents a gallery show inspired by her book of the same name, featuring portraits of her friend and fellow downtown scene-maker Page.

  1. ClampArt 521–531 W 25th St, between Tenth and Eleventh Aves, 10001
  2. Wed Apr 23 - Sat May 17
More info

"Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Walls"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Leslie-Lohman presents a sure-to-be-steamy exhibit of illustrations featured in gay male magazines, from early beefcake "fitness" periodicals in the 1940s to the more blatantly porny titles of the 1990s. Artist Robert W. Richards curates the show, which includes works by Tom of Finland, George Stavrinos, Harry Bush and many more.

  1. Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art 26 Wooster St, between Canal and Grand Sts
  2. Wed Apr 23 - Sun May 25
More info

Gonzalo Orquin, "Si, quiero"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Rome-based artist Gonzalo Orquin photographed same-sex couples kissing in baroque Italian churches for "Si, quiero" (translation: "I do"), which was scheduled to go on view in a private gallery in his home city until the Vatican put a stop to it, citing Italian laws which "safeguard an individual's religious feelings." Fortunately, there are no such rules in New York, so you can check out the large-scale images on view 24 hours in Leslie-Lohman's windows.

  1. Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art 26 Wooster St, between Canal and Grand Sts
  2. Wed Apr 30 - Tue Jun 24
More info

Figment NYC

  • Critics choice
  • Free

This two-day art happening takes over Governors Island, turning it into a Seussian wonderland filled with fantastical installations and sculptures. Festgoers are invited to get into the spirit and join in on the arty, free-spirited vibe. (A what-to-bring list suggests items like squirt guns, costumes and kites.) Interact with more than 200 participatory projects, such as The Hero’s Journey, a role-playing quest inspired by the works of Joseph Campbell, and Cocoon Playground, a field of stretchy fabric cocoons that you can climb inside of. Don’t fret if you can’t manage to see it all—several of the installations will be open throughout the summer, including the popular artist-designed minigolf course (this year’s theme is “state of the art”), an interactive sculpture garden and a tree house.

  1. Governors Island Governors Island
  2. Sat Jun 7 - Sun Jun 8
More info

Museum Mile Festival

  • Critics choice
  • Free

A 23-block stretch of Fifth Avenue becomes a car-free promenade when ten of the city’s most prestigious art institutions—including the Guggenheim, the Met and the Museum of the City of New York—open their doors to the public free of charge for three hours. The crowds at this annual culturefest can be daunting—more than 50,000 people are expected to show up—but don’t get overwhelmed; plan to get there early if you want to see big-name shows. Musical performances, including string quartets and jazz ensembles, will enhance your walk from one museum to the next. Fifth Ave from 82nd to 105th Sts.

Best things to do in art this week

  • Free

Monday 11"Denise Kupferschmidt: Spektr" at PACS GalleryKupferschmidt's elemental forms will delight with their primal dreaminess.Little Band of Sailors at Asia Song SocietyRachel Mason's brainchild is sure to be as deliciously weird as ever.Tuesday 12Tricia Baga screening and performance at Electronic Arts IntermixThis video artist gives a performative lecture. Fast Tracked, presented by the Center for Urban Pedagogy at the High LineThis presentation of a publication made by high schoolers in conjunction with CUP staff, traces the decisions behind the 7 subway extension.Thursday 14"Amy Lien/Enzo Camacho: Caf by the Ruins" at 47 Canal, opening 6--8pm "Discursive Arrangements, or Stubbornly Persistent Illusions" at Klaus von Nichtssagend, opening 6--8pm Friday 15"New Shape/Take the Square" at Soloway, BrooklynThe gallery continues its heavenly backyard screenings with works by Dani Leventhal, Fern Silva, Vanessa Renwick and Annette Wehrhahn. Also included are poetry Readings by Brett Price and Nicole Wallace. Don't miss the last chance to see the current exhibition.

New venue: Pop-up the Spot, ?uestlove spins tonight

  • Free

The Spot, which opened last week, is throwing parties Wednesday through Saturday until July 30, and we were there last Saturday to capture the shindig with Peligrosa All-Stars and Que Bajo?! Located in Openhouse Gallery (openhousegallery.org) in Nolita, the programming comes courtesy of Latino culture mag Remezcla (remezcla.com), and they have arranged one hot lineup. Starting at 7pm tonight, teams of two artists do visual battle, creating works on tablets that will be projected onto the walls for your enjoyment (check out some of the contestants' pieces here). Then at 9pm, Roots supremo ?uestlove takes to the wheels of steel. You need to R.S.V.P. by 4pm today (reservations for events on Friday and Saturday close a day prior) to have a chance of getting in, but your spot is not guaranteed. We recommend arriving early since the capacity is limited to 250, but as our colleague once remarked, if you're not waiting in line in NYC, you're doing something wrong. And gaining admittance snags you two free beers (which cost $6 each, beyond your two freebies)—and that's certainly not wrong. Check out the full lineup of parties, but we highly recommend getting your ass down there for a screening of Downtown Calling with DJs Johnny Dynell and Sal Principato (July 27), as well as the closing party, where you can boogie down with Mexican Institue of Sound and Nacotheque (July 30).

Free things to do today: Sake and chocolate, native art markets and Carol Pope

  • Free

DrinkSake and Chocolate TastingSakaya owner Rick Smith teams up with Xocolatti founder Shaineal Shah for this casual tasting. The pair will walk you through two gratis pairings, matching rice wines like Kagatobi Junmai Ginjo and Ume no Yado "Aragoshi" Umeshu with sake truffles and dark chocolate. After: Want more sake? Head to subterranean bar Decibel for a rice-wine fix. EventNMAI MarketAll of the items for sale at this bazaar were crafted by Native American artists and make for socially conscious and beautiful holiday gifts. Look for pottery by Joseph and Nona LaToma of the San Felipe Pueblo people and turquoise jewelry by Aaron Brokeshoulder. Also: Peek at the museum's current exhibition, "A Song for the Horse Nation," illustrating the role of horses in Native American culture. GayCarol Pope at Brooklyn Museum's Target First SaturdayLegendary Canadian lesbian rocker Carol Pope—whose album Avoid Freud has been named a favorite by both k.d. lang and Joni Mitchell—performs tonight as part of the museum's free monthly fest. Before: Get buzzed on free wine samples at the New York Wine Stand at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. See all free things to do today See more than 300 free things to do in NYC

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