Ten best permanent collections
These museums are worth visiting no matter what temporary exhibits are up.
Tue Jul 21 2009
Few museums in the city offer a collection as varied as this: The first three floors focus on art and artifacts from around the globe (with an impressive array of ancient Egyptian and African items), while the fourth and fifth spotlight contemporary American and decorative art. Don't miss the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, with Judy Chicago's seminal sculpture The Dinner Party at its center.
Visitors to this outpost of the Metropolitan Museum of Art come for the building itself—which was erected using remnants of five French cloisters—as much as its collection of medieval European art. More than 5,000 items, including the famed Unicorn Tapestries, are on view.
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
While the museum houses an impressively large permanent collection (its Drue Heinz Study Center for Drawings and Prints alone comprises more than 160,000 items), most of it isn't viewable. But fear not: As part of its ongoing "Selects" exhibit, the museum lets artists choose their favorite objects from the collection. Shahzia Sikander's picks will be on view through September 7.
The Jewish Museum
It provides the most comprehensive overview of Jewish art and history in the city, with more than 26,000 items in its collection, spanning 4,000 years. Artifacts run the gamut from a Persian marriage contract from 1647, to paintings by contemporary artists like Sol LeWitt and Deborah Kass.
The Morgan Library & Museum
The museum's collection began as the personal collection of famed financier John Pierpont Morgan, and as such is suitably eclectic. Original manuscripts from Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau (among many others) are housed alongside three original Gutenberg Bibles and letters from Mozart. And that's just scratching the surface.
Museum of Sex
The six-year-old institution revamped its permanent collection last year, adding new items (including a steel-framed cage formerly owned by a NYC dominatrix, and several berrealistic "love dolls") to its existing panoply of more than 15,000 kinky objects. And you thought museums were all staid and stuffy.
New-York Historical Society
Look no further than New York's oldest museum for a staggering assortment of historic items—the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture alone has more than 40,000 artifacts, including the largest collection of Tiffany lamps in the world, and items that recall the fight to end slavery and the flight of those on the Underground Railroad.
The Paley Center for Media
What was American broadcasting like before reality TV and Clear Channel dominated the airwaves? Find out here, where nearly 150,000 programs spanning nine decades are constantly available (and searchable online, so you'll know if the old episode of Saturday Night Live that you want to see is available). Best of all: It's blessedly Kardashian-free!
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC
Though it's smaller than its sister institution in Cleveland, the Rock Annex contains enough artifacts to satisfy even the biggest music nerds: Items like Madonna's gold Jean Paul Gaultier bustier and the original awning of CBGB are on display, while an interactive map of Manhattan lets visitors pinpoint the locations of historic moments in music.
Whitney Museum of American Art
Sometimes having a niche can be a good thing: The collection here focuses specifically on American art beginning in 1900 and running through present day. Works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Kiki Smith and Willem de Kooning (to name a few) are on view; the museum also counts many pieces by Edward Hopper and films by Andy Warhol among its holdings.