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: Courtesy Petzel Gallery
By Howard Halle |

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

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

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!”

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

Katya Tepper

icon-location-pin White Columns, West Village

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.

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

“Milton Resnick: Paintings 1937–1987”

icon-location-pin The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, Lower East Side

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.

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

“Something To Say”

icon-location-pin Brooklyn Museum Shop, Prospect Park

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.

Tala Madani, Mother Figure, 2018
Photograph: Courtesy 303 Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

Tala Madani

icon-location-pin 303 Gallery, Chelsea

Abjection as the path to enlightenment is as good of a mission statement as any for the darkly comic work of L.A. artist Tala Madani, a Teheran native who was one of the standouts of the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Her paintings there included scatological depictions of a baby reaching for a pair of breasts made of feces, as well as a stygian disco interior lit by naked men, seated in the rafters, shooting spotlights out of their rectums. Indeed, Madani’s scenes often play out against black backgrounds illuminated by cones of light that narrowly issue from one source or the next—including, yes, other assholes. Animations are also part of her toolkit, and, along with new paintings, they be can be found in her gallery debut.

Victor Mann, Moonlight (All Nations Flag), 2018
Photograph: Courtesy Gladstone 64
Art, Contemporary art

Victor Man, “Flowering Ego”

icon-location-pin Gladstone 64, Lenox Hill

The work of this Romanian painter who divides his time between Berlin and his hometown of Cluj features figurative subjects—often portrait heads—shrouded by a Mittle-Europan gloom conjured out of disparate sources such as Blue-Period Picasso, Balthus and Medieval painting. Upbeat these canvases are not, but they reveal an elegantly Gothic sensibility behind their takes on the eternal themes of sex and death.        

James English Leary, Cameo (Veranda), 2018
Photograph: Courtesy Nathalie Karg Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

James English Leary, “Hoi Polloi”

icon-location-pin Nathalie Karg Gallery, Lower East Side

A founder of The Bruce High Quality Foundation (a satirical collective that, beginning in 2001, took aim at art institutions and history), James English Leary has since stepped out from the shadows of what had been an anonymous group to reveal himself as a painter worth watching, thanks to his shaped canvases with a figurative bent. For his gallery debut, he includes panels cut into silhouetted facial profiles, rimmed with abstract blobs intruding upon each other.

Denise Scott Brown
Photograph: Courtesy Carriage Trade
Art, Contemporary art

“Denise Scott Brown: Photographs, 1956–1966”

icon-location-pin Carriage Trade, Lower East Side

Along with husband and fellow architect Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown wrote Learning From Las Vegas, a game-changing tome which proposed that Sin City’s pop urban landscape of garish signs and casinos pointed a way out of the lock that the International Style had on mid-century architect. Learning was instrumental to ushering in the Postmodern era, in which “less is more” became simply “more.” As part of developing the ideas in the book, Brown took color photos of streetscapes in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, some of which are chockablock with signs, drive-thrus and cars from Detroit’s heyday. Though Brown considered this work to be nothing more than documentation, they rival the work of William Eggelston in their vivid snapshot allure.

Diane Arbus, Untitled (49) 1970-71
Photograph: © The Estate of Diane Arbus
Art, Contemporary art

“Diane Arbus: Untitled”

icon-location-pin David Zwirner, Chelsea

Taken between 1969 and 1971, this series of 66 images record Arbus’s visits to various homes for the developmentally disabled. The subjects are captured during holiday celebrations and other social occasions—picnics, dances and Halloween festivities—raising the question, as always with Arbus, of whether these photos are exploitative or empathetic. The answer (again, as usual for Arbus) is that they represent a dance on the knife’s edge between cruelty and kindness.

KAWS, GONE, 2018
Photograph: © KAWS, Courtesy the artist and Skarstedt, New York
Art, Contemporary art


icon-location-pin Skarstedt Gallery, Upper East Side

Like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat before him, artist Brian Donnelly—aka KAWS—has taken his art from the streets to major museums and galleries. Case in point: His debut exhibition with Skarstedt at the gallery’s tony Upper East Side branch. Featured are new paintings and larger-than-life size painted bronze sculptures of Donnelly’s signature KAWS character, CHUM (a sort of skull-headed Mickey Mouse with Xs for eyes)—including one standing figure cradling the limp body of Cookie Monster in his arms in homage to Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Sarah Morris, Midtown—Paine Webber Building (With Neons), 1998
Photograph: Courtesy Petzel Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

Sarah Morris, “Midtown Paintings: 1998–2001”

icon-location-pin Petzel Gallery, Lenox Hill

Morris could be described as a sort globalist flâneur, strolling the boulevards of cities from Beijing to Abu Dhabi to capture impressions of these locales in magisterial videos and vividly colored, geometrically abstract canvases. According to the artist, the latter represent visual algorithms meant unlock the “code” of each place—which is to say, its respective role in sustaining neoliberalism’s grip on the international economy. However eye-catching, though, these paintings are usually too thin and decorative to carry the weight of their intended meaning. An exception may be this series from the 1990s, which represent Morris’s first forays in this vein. Inspired by the area surrounding her studio at the time (which was situated near Times Square) Morris created these gridded compositions recalling the glass curtain wall facades of various midcentury towers along Park and Sixth Avenues. Canted at angles to suggest neck-craning points of view, the paintings are at once a Broadway Boogie–woogie–style celebration of New York’s energy and an elegy for a city whose cultural dominance was beginning to slip away in the face of a new world order.

Atsuko Tanaka, Work, 1976
Photograph: Genevieve Hanson, © Atsuko Tanaka
Art, Contemporary art


icon-location-pin Hauser & Wirth New York, Lenox Hill

The work of Gutai, the postwar, Japanese neo-avant grade group that roughly coincided with Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalist in the US., has been shown in several NYC exhibits over the years since the Guggenheim staged the first major revival of the movement in 2013. This one at Hauser & Wirth’s uptown space will put you up close and personal with paintings and sculptures by Gutai’s major players.

Photograph: David N. Regen, courtesy Gladstone Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

Keith Haring

icon-location-pin Gladstone Gallery, Chelsea

Nearly 30 years after Keith Haring’s untimely death from AIDS, his work remains as buoyant as ever, judging from this show of paintings—some never previously exhibited—from the final years of his life.

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