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
James Ensor, Skeletons Warming Themselves, 1889, detail
Photograph: The Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX
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
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 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!”

2
Maruja Mallo, El Mago/Pim Pam Pum, 1926
Photograph: © Ortuzar Projects, New York
Art, Contemporary art

“Maruja Mallo: Paintings 1926-1952”

icon-location-pin Tribeca
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A contemporary of Salvador Dalì and Luis Buñuel, Maruja Mallo (1902–1995), was one of the lesser-known Surrealists who came out of Spain, though her work played a significant role within the Spanish avant-garde movement of the 1920s and ’30s. Dreamlike, and yet more rooted in everyday reality than Dalì’s fantastical compositions, Mallo’s worked ranged from figurative ensembles to portraits and still lives, all imbued with a mystical air. This rare showing of her work should go a long way towards creating a newfound interest in her under-appreciated career.

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3
Joseph Buckley, Traitor Muscle, installation view, 2018
Photograph: Dario Lasagni, courtesy Art In General
Art, Contemporary art

“Joseph Buckley: Traitor Muscle”

icon-location-pin DUMBO
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This newly commissioned installation by Art In General represents the first solo outing in NYC for Buckley, a biracial British artist with roots in Ireland and the Caribbean. This background accounts, perhaps, for the reason his work delves into the conjoined legacies of slavery, colonialism and fascism. With walls covered in silver foil, floors painted red and green, and elements that include a group of robotic figures stacked up like cordwood, the piece evokes a sci-fi collision of slave ship, Amazon fulfillment center and Andy Warhol’s Factory.

4
Richard Pettibone, Heart Attack #4, 2018
Photograph: Courtesy Castelli Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

Richard Pettibone

icon-location-pin Lenox Hill
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Now in his eighties, Pop-Art miniaturist Richard Pettibone was an early-adapter of Duchampian aesthetics who went Warhol on Warhol himself, replicating Andy’s work and that of other artists (Stella, Lichtenstein and Duchamp himself) in exquisitely small canvases that were often repeated serially. Pettibone—along with coeval copyist Elaine Sturtevant—would later be hailed during the 1980s as harbingers of Appropriation Art. He continues in a similar, if more personal vein for this show, memorializing his 2016 heart attack by replicating Marcel Duchamp’s 1936 cover for the magazine, Cahiers D’Art, a design that featured three concentric hearts in red and blue.

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5
Katya Tepper, Gaping Candle Tripod, 2018
Photograph: Courtesy the artist
Art, Contemporary art

Katya Tepper

icon-location-pin West Village
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Katya Tepper’s semi-abstract wall constructions may put you in mind of Philip Guston’s late-career paintings, not only because Tepper’s style recalls the funky, cartoonish quality of Guston’s own, but also because her work, like his, is a self-study in suffering from a debilitating condition—depression and alcoholism in Guston’s case; severe auto-immune disease in Tepper’s. Viewers have a chance to judge for themselves in her NYC solo debut.

6
Katherine Bradford, Waiting Room, 2018
Photograph: Courtesy Canada
Art, Contemporary art

Katherine Bradford, “Friends and Strangers”

icon-location-pin Lower East Side
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Dream states intruding upon the everyday feature heavily into Bradford’s paintings, which have been described as a mix of Florine Stettheimer and Mark Rothko. Bradford, 76, was a late bloomer, living life as a wife and mother before coming out and turning to art. Much of that time transpired in Maine, where she maintains a studio along with one in Brooklyn. While her last show focused on scenes of bathers lost in watery reverie, this outing includes subjects that appear more psychological fraught, with figures crowding the composition like something out of an unpleasant memory.

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7
Banks Violette, installation view
Photograph: David N. Regen, courtesy Gladstone 64
Art, Contemporary art

Banks Violette

icon-location-pin Lenox Hill
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In the ’00s, Banks Violette emerged as a star of bad-boy art with bull-in-a-china-shop installations that included burnt, twisted and scattered remnants of band equipment, lighting trusses and other stage paraphernalia. Usually dipped in high-gloss black, these items were often joined by fluorescent fixtures that were piled on the floor, strung-up haphazardly, or fastened into semblances of chandeliers and upside-down American Flags. The results, a sort of admittedly redundant synthesis of Gene Simmons and Richard Serra, celebrated hyper-masculinity by posing as its critique. Around 2010, Violette more or less dropped off of the radar. He re-emerges here in his first NYC solo show in a decade, with smallish works on paper that reprise (sotto voce) previous themes while adding references to Roseanne Barr and Stormy Daniels.

8
Sebastian Black
Photograph: Courtesy CLEARING, New York/Brussels
Art, Contemporary art

Sebastian Black, “Self-Portrait as a Good Boy”

icon-location-pin Bushwick
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Say this for Black’s colorful abstractions: They are visually punchy affairs. Their all-over skeins of curvilinear shapes and figurative fragments evoke a fizzy mix of Jazz Age and mid-century modernism that swings somewhere between WPA mural and Mad Men office art.

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9
Pedro Wirz, from "breasfed tadpole," 2018, detail
Photograph: Courtesy Kai Matsumiya
Art, Contemporary art

Pedro Wirz, “breasfed tadpole”

icon-location-pin Lower East Side
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Wirz is from Brazil and his sculptures often feature organic forms (egg or insect shapes; enormous coils of brown, fecal-like matter) glossed with a coat of abjection. His second show at this gallery asks viewers to imagine “the world enveloped with office carpet [that] serves as the chief nutritive source like soil”—an interesting thought experiment that would make you wonder what might crawl out of there.

10
Steven Shearer, The Late Follower, 2017
Photograph: Courtesy Galerie Eva Presenhuber, New York/Zurich
Art, Contemporary art

Steven Shearer, “The Late Follower”

icon-location-pin Midtown West
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This Canadian artist’s work is, in a word, weird. His arsenal of paintings, text panels, silkscreens and photo collages swing wildly between conceptualist-inflected Pop Art, and odder still, a style that could be described as a throw back to 19th-century Symbolism and Pre-Raphaelite painting—with a touch of Munch thrown in for good measure. His best-known subjects consists of of long-haired, androgynous dudes, who appear to have escaped from an ’70s heavy metal band. Some of them are pictured with bloodied mouths, some are seen strung up by nooses. Wistful, melancholic, romantic and perverse, Shearer’s work seems to be longing for the sort of lost youth that burns brightest when it burns out.

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11
Giorgio de Chirico, Archaeology, 1927
Photograph: Courtesy Nicholas Hall and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong
Art, Contemporary art

“Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art”

icon-location-pin Chelsea
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You don’t get more museum quality than this show, drawn from international collections, which explores artistic treatments of dreams, the subconscious and the fantastical from the 12th century to the present. Contributions by a hit list of art-historical heavyweights—Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Hieronymus Bosch, Goya, Ensor, Picasso, Duchamp—are joined by works from contemporary artists such as Sherrie Levine, Luc Tuymans and Lisa Yuskavage.

12
Simone Leigh, No Face (Pannier), 2018
Photograph: Courtesy Luhring Augustine
Art, Contemporary art

Simone Leigh

icon-location-pin Chelsea
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Leigh recently received the inaugural commission for the High Line’s new public art platform, the Plinth, which will be unveiled in 2019. In the meantime, her current show features recent ceramic and mixed media works that likewise deal with the role women of color played in transmitting the culture of Africa to the African Diaspora. The sculptures here include totemic female heads (doubling, in some cases as vessels) made of ceramic or bronze. Elsewhere, similar heads have been balanced atop full-length figures wearing raffia skirts that voluminously billow out to resemble thatched huts.

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13
Charline von Heyl, Mana Hatta, 2017
Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York
Art, Contemporary art

Charline von Heyl

icon-location-pin Chelsea
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Von Heyl’s latest paintings expand upon the recombinant mix of imagery and abstraction that has distinguished her among contemporary practitioners of the medium. Her penchant for shattering compositional space with cartoonish jigsaw puzzle shapes (filled with stripes, dots, harlequin patterns), intruding upon one another as they float against varying types of compositional backgrounds, remains very much in evidence.

14
Matthew Monahan, Triad, 2018
Photograph: Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

Matthew Monahan, “frNMEz”

icon-location-pin Midtown East
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L.A. artist Matthew Monahan is known for sculptures with a violently deconstructive (some might say destructive) take on the human form, in which bodies appear to break apart or shear off into fragments before recombining again as stylistically referential shards—suggesting what might have happen had Frankenstein gotten his doctorate in art history instead of medicine. In addition to new sculptures, his latest show is highlighted by paintings on aluminum panels figuring futures that looked like they could have stepped out of a Dadaist collage or a Cubist painting.

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15
Milton Resnick, Untitled 1946
Photograph: Courtesy The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation
Art, Painting

“Milton Resnick: Paintings 1937–1987”

icon-location-pin Lower East Side
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Resnick (1917-2004) was a key member of the downtown art scene of mid-century New York, a painter whose style evolved from Abstract Expressionism to dense all-over compositions of impastoed colors that appeared to visually resolve into monochromatic fields. This survey of his work represents the inaugural exhibit of the foundation bearing Resnick’s name and that of wife and fellow artist Pat Passlof (1928-2011), which is also located in the former synagogue that served as the couple’s home and studio.

16
Deborah Kass, OY/YO, 2015
Courtesy the artist and
Art, Contemporary art

“Something To Say”

icon-location-pin 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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