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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

Written 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

  • Art
  • Contemporary art

Going on 19 years now, the U.S. invasion of Iraq is the latest of many conflicts that have wracked the region since organized warfare was originated by the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia. As the endless war has shifted from deposing Saddam Hussein to combating ISIS and confronting Iran, the collateral damage has included looted or destroyed historical artifacts from Sumer, Babylon and Assyria. Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz has made it his mission to save these treasures in memory, if not in fact. Rakowitz’s latest show continues his ongoing project of reconstructing such objects in papier-mâché made from Middle Eastern product labels, covering the work in vivid colors and punchy Arabic type. Here, resurrected Assyrian bas-reliefs, demolished by the Islamic State in 2015, are presented through the prism of consumerism, connecting them to a global economy whose dependence on oil factored into the U.S. intervention in Iraq.  Elsewhere, there’s a stop-motion animation based on a hoax: In 2005, a jihadist website posted a ransom demand for a captured African-American GI, accompanied by his photo. However, the kidnappee turned out to be Special Ops Cody, a lifelike action figure marketed to U.S. servicemen through their local PX. In Rakowitz’s telling, Cody comes to life, finding his way into a museum vitrine filled with Sumerian figurines. Voiced by a female veteran of the Iraqi conflict, Cody pleads with them to escape but is met with eternally impassive stares. R

  • Art
  • Contemporary art

By his own admission, this Canadian-born, L.A. artist is a failed rock star, which is just as well, since his collaged send-ups of existential angst always make inventive use of trash and trash-cultural references. Here, he populates paint-splattered, glitter-bombed canvases with refuse, including upside track paints brought to life with the help of cue-balls shoved into their pockets to create glowering “eyes.” The show’s title “Waiting for the Next Nirvana,” conveys a plaintive middle-age complaint: “Why hasn’t there been any decent music since Kurt Cobain died?” The pants certainly seem pissed about it.

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