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The 100 best paintings in New York: Museum of Modern Art

Discover which of the 100 best paintings in New York can be found at the Museum of Modern Art

Written by
Time Out New York contributors

The Persistence of Memory (1931), Salvador Dalí

Rank: 100

Dalí described his meticulously rendered works as “hand-painted dream photographs,” and certainly, the melted watches that make their appearance in this Surrealist masterpiece have become familiar symbols of that moment when reverie seems to uncannily invade the everyday. The coast of the artist’s native Catalonia serves as the backdrop for this landscape of time, in which infinity and decay are held in equipoise. As for the odd, rubbery creature in the center of the composition, it’s the artist himself, or rather his profile, stretched and flattened like Silly Putty.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York

Drowning Girl (1963), Roy Lichtenstein

Rank: 99

Lichtenstein’s Pop icon is at once a coolly ironic deconstruction of pulp melodrama and a formally dynamic—even moving—composition, thanks largely to the interplay of the subject’s hair (swept into a perfect Mad Men–era coif) and the waves (which seem to have wandered in from a Hokusai print) threatening her. The image, a crop from a panel in an early-’60s comic book titled Run for Love!, shows that Lichtenstein is in full command of his style, employing not only his well-known Ben-Day dots but also bold black lines corralling areas of deep blue. A complete stunner.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York


Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940), Frida Kahlo

Rank: 98

This gender-bending self-portrait by the celebrated Mexican artist and feminist icon was occasioned by her divorce from Diego Rivera, the muralist notable not only for his own artistic genius but for his philandering ways. Kahlo had apparently enough of the latter but, as the painting indicates, she couldn’t quite quit Rivera. She pictures herself in a chair, hair shorn, with her signature peasant blouse and skirt replaced by Rivera’s clothes, effectively transforming herself into her ex-husband’s likeness. Unsurprisingly, Kahlo remarried Rivera the following year, so this weirdly compelling painting could also be described as a monument to codependency.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York

Wrist Corsage (1996), Lisa Yuskavage

Rank: 97

Part of a generation of Yale painters to embrace the figure, Yuskavage focuses on exaggerated nudes that question ideals about the female body. In this piece, a pneumatic nude of Kardashian proportion provides a stark contrast to a young girl in the photograph pinned to the wall.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy MoMA/ © 2015 Lisa Yuskavage


Jacob’s Ladder (1957), Helen Frankenthaler

Rank: 95

In the vibrant New York art scene of the 1950s, Frankenthaler developed her own brand of Abstract Expressionism, working on unprimed canvas placed directly on the floor and diluting her pigments with turpentine so they soaked directly into the canvas rather then rested upon it.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Hyman N. Glickstein © 2015 Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The City Rises (1910), Umberto Boccioni

Rank: 91

This is the first major futurist work by Boccioni. Depicting a power plant in construction, he has abandoned naturalism to express technology through electrified paint handling. Man and mythical oversized animal work together in flux and dynamic energy to build the city: the utopian ideal of futurists before World War I.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund


Odol (1924), Stuart Davis

Rank: 83

Throughout his career, Davis bridged the realism of Robert Henri and the Ashcan School to more modern impulses including Postimpressionism and Cubism. Inspired by the American city, Davis’s paintings of everyday objects, like this stylized bottle of mouthwash, presaged Pop Art by four decades.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mary Sisler Bequest (by exchange) and purchase

Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), Andy Warhol

Rank: 61

No Warhol demonstrates the artist’s worship of glamour better than this painting, created the year Monroe died in an apparent suicide. It is the altarpiece in Andy’s Pop Art church of celebrity. But by the same token, the work also speaks to Warhol’s background as an observant Catholic; it wouldn’t look all that out of place at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, where Warhol regularly attended mass (sans wig). The image is based on a publicity still for the film Niagara, in which Monroe played opposite Joseph Cotton as an unhappily married woman, plotting the murder of her husband.—Howard Halle

The Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Philip Johnson. © 2015 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942–43), Piet Mondrian

Rank: 59

Mondrian came to New York in 1940, fleeing the Nazi invasion of his native Holland. He died here four years later, and though he probably didn’t know it at the time, his brief sojourn would have a lasting, if delayed, impact on American art. Though AbEx put the U.S. on the map, Minimalism was to become our most enduring stylistic export, and its rigorous, reductive geometry owed a lot to Mondrian’s De Stijl aesthetic. Broadway Boogie Woogie, his second-to-last painting, is a love letter to his adopted home, inspired by jazz and the energy of the Gotham’s streets—a strangely prescient, if abstract, portrait of the city as the center of a nascent superpower.-—Howard Halle

Peter Horree / Alamy

Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), Kazimir Malevich

Rank: 57

Though it was painted nearly a century ago, this painting’s radical nature continues to astonish. Malevich’s aim wasn’t pure reductivism, though. Inspired by Russia’s icon tradition, the early Soviet avant-gardist believed that the Russian Revolution had ushered in a new age in which materialism would give way to spirituality. He called his philosophy Suprematism, and White on White serves as the supreme manifestation of the artist reaching for transcendence.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. 1935 Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

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