The best free art exhibitions in NYC

Discover New York City’s top free art exhibitions and gallery shows in our roundup of critic’s picks
Photograph: © Committee Georges Mathieu, ARS, New York/ADAGP, Paris
By Howard Halle |
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Looking for some free art, culture vultures? Thought so. Which is why we found a bunch of gratis art shows at galleries and museums in NYC that won’t cost you a cent. Visit well-known institutions like the Pace Gallery and David Zwirner and still have money in your pocket for lunch at one of the best restaurants in NYC.

RECOMMENDED: See the full guide to free things to do in NYC

Best free art exhibitions in NYC

1
David Weiss, Untitled, 1975
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

“David Weiss: Drawings”

icon-location-pin Matthew Marks Gallery, Chelsea
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Famed for being half of the irreverent conceptualist art duo Fischli/Weiss, David Weiss started out on his own, creating these works on paper between the late 1960s and early ’80s. Together, they suggest  what might have happened had Weiss not teamed up with Peter Fischli. Influenced by Sigmar Polke, German Expressionism and Zap Comix, Weiss renderings are at once refined and cartoonish, formalist and Pop.

2
Photograph: Courtesy Gavin Brown’s Enterprise
Art, Contemporary art

Ella Kruglyanskaya

icon-location-pin Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Harlem
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Kruglyanskaya’s vibrantly cartoonish paintings of stylized female figures have made a specialty of sending up traditional depictions women in art, and in her latest work, she trains her satirical eye on the role of the artist and his/her own engagement with the conventions of painting, and the audience for it.

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Arlene Shechet, Full Steam Ahead, 2018
Photograph: Rashmi Gill, courtesy Madison Square Park Conservancy
Art, Contemporary art

“Arlene Shechet: Full Steam Ahead”

icon-location-pin Madison Square Park, Flatiron
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For this outdoor installation, the artist is arraying a series of quirky abstract sculptures in porcelain, wood and cast iron around Madison Square Park’s central fountain, which has been drained for the occasion. The installation’s title is taken from a famous order given by Admiral David Farragut, whose statue stands nearby, at the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. When his squadron began to withdraw after one of its ships was sunk, he ordered it to reverse course and charge the harbor. “Damn the torpedoes,” he said, using period nomenclature for mines, “full speed ahead!”

4
Deborah Kass, OY/YO, 2015
Courtesy the artist and
Art, Contemporary art

“Something To Say”

icon-location-pin Brooklyn Museum Shop, Prospect Park
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For the next year, a group of text-based outdoor sculptures will be taking up residence in front of the Brooklyn's Museum main entrance as part of the institution’s “role as a civic space for conversation and shared learning.” Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Kameelah Janan Rasheed and Hank Willis Thomas are among the contributors, and so, too, is Deborah Kass, whose monumental sculpture OY/YO will be making its third public appearance after extended stays in Brooklyn Bridge Park and North Fifth Street Pier Park in Williamsburg.

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5
David Byrd, The Cave, 1973
Photograph: Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

David Byrd

icon-location-pin Anton Kern Gallery, Midtown East
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David Byrd (1926–2013) did not receive his first gallery show until shortly before his death at age 87. Now, this revelatory two-venue show gives viewers a chance to catch up with this extraordinary artist, whose paintings of commonplace scenes use a light palette to depict dark themes. Works by David Byrd are also on view at White Columns, through Mar 9

6
Craig Kalpakjian, Silent Running, 2019
Photograph: Courtesy Kai Matsumiya
Art, Contemporary art

“Reset”

icon-location-pin Kai Matsumiya Gallery, Lower East Side
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This group show contemplates the role of art after the apocalypse (environmental edition) with works by 22 artists who re-imagine the gallery as “a dystopian laboratory” where they can conduct experiments in re-configuring culture in the wake of a catastrophic tabula rasa.

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7
Penny Slinger, Call of the Wild, 1970-77
Photograph: Courtesy the artist
Art, Contemporary art

Penny Slinger, “Inside Out”

icon-location-pin Fortnight Institute, East Village
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Slinger, a self-styled sex-positive feminist, presents works from the 1960s and ’70s, including photos of herself wearing a erotic wearable wedding cake sculpture, as well as surrealistic collages derived from those of Max Ernst, which she repurposed to explore the distinct characteristics of the female psyche.

8
Wally Reinhardt, Theseus Slays the Minotaur, 2003
Photograph: Courtesy New York University Art Collection
Art, Contemporary art

“Metamorphoses: Ovid According to Wally Reinhardt”

icon-location-pin Grey Art Gallery/NYU, Greenwich Village
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Since 1984, Wally Reinhardt, who is self-taught, has devoted himself to visually interpreting the epic poem “Metamorphoses,” a chronicle of the history of the world written by the First-Century Roman author, Ovid. Reinhardt began his project upon his return to New York from an extended stay in Rome, where he’d encountered numerous Renaissance and Baroque artworks based on Ovid’s writing. Rendered variously in colored pencil, gouache and watercolor, Reinhardt’s images follow Ovid’s text in a style that merges classicism with funky, outsider-artist panache.

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9
Rodney Graham, Vacuuming the Gallery, 1949, 2018
Photograph: Courtesy 303 Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

Rodney Graham

icon-location-pin 303 Gallery, Chelsea
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At the center of Vancouver artist Rodney Graham’s latest exhibition, a series of four light-box–mounted transparencies join together to form a single huge image of a gray-haired man, in a vintage double-breasted suit, vacuuming the carpet of a tony art gallery. Loopy abstractions in heavy frames line the walls, while a doorway into an adjoining room reveals a woman in a salmon pink dress admiring one of the paintings. Graham’s pitch-perfect simulation of a mid-century gallery appears straightforward until the details begin to sink in. In this shrine of high modernism—a cult predicated on the genius of artistic discovery—the vacuum turns out to be an old Eureka-brand model, while in a reversal of traditional gender roles, the woman levels the appraising gaze as the elegant, pipe-smoking man (played by Graham himself in a pose based on a 1949 photo of New York dealer, Samuel Kootz) does the cleaning. The wry ironies continue to mount elsewhere in the show. Graham has included five actual canvases, textured with sand and derived distantly from Synthetic Cubism, which resemble the examples in the photo—and like them, look both familiar and generic. Too interesting and accomplished to be mere props, yet too anachronistic and goofy to succeed on their own, these compositions refuse to fail correctly. Other photographic self-portraits of Graham reinforce the exhibit’s air of the comically forlorn, including one picture in which a heavily tatted version of the artist stands on an

Time Out says
10
Dana Schutz, Painting in an Earthquake, 2019
Photograph: Courtesy Petzel Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

“Dana Schutz: Imagine Me and You”

icon-location-pin Petzel Gallery, Chelsea
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In anticipation of her first show since her contribution to the 2017 Whitney Biennial (a portrait of Emmett Till in his coffin, after he was lynched and mutilated by a mob for whistling at a white woman) ignited a firestorm of protest from African-American artists, Dana Schutz went on a kind of Kevin Hart-style non-apology tour, telling The New York Times that, yes, “It’s good those voices were heard,” and that, in any case, the task of “register[ing]” the “monstrous act” of Till’s death was probably always “impossible.” What she could have said, but didn’t, of course, was something like, “I stepped in doo-doo because I was blinded by white privilege.” But that was then, and this is now, and the art world, after a perfunctory rending of garments, has moved on. Her latest work, which continues to follow her formula of whipping abstracted figuration to an Expressionistic froth, may or may not reflect directly on Schutz’s recent travails, though one canvas, Painting in an Earthquake, does seem to address the controversy by picturing the artist as she heroically continues to paint while her studio—shaken by unseen forces—crumbles around her. Self-aware it isn’t. Admittedly, I’ve been somewhat more resistant to the charms of Schutz’s practice than the critics who are hailing her show as a triumphal return. Among the women painters of her generation—Nicole Eisenman, Amy Sillman, etc.—Schutz is the one I've never quite understood what it was she was after, aside from displaying he

Time Out says
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11
Georges Mathieu, Souvenir de la maison d'Autriche, 1978
Photograph: © Committee Georges Mathieu, ARS, New York/ADAGP, Paris
Art, Contemporary art

“Georges Mathieu: Monumental Paintings”

icon-location-pin Nahmad Contemporary, Central Park
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A coeval of the Abstract Expressionists, Mathieu (1921–2012) isn’t well known on these shores, but he’s considered one of France’s most important abstract artists—and, indeed,was much admired by American art critic Clement Greenberg. Unlike Jackson Pollock et al., Mathieu didn't traffic in storm und drang, taking instead a lyrical approach to gestural painting that resembled calligraphy more than it did the dripping and slashing of his AbEx contemporaries. (It is remarkable how his work at times anticipates graffiti art.) He liked to work big, and these four compositions from 1978—each measuring approximately eight by 19 feet—are among his biggest, and were created specifically for the artist’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris that same year. 

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