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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

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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
Ebecho Muslimova, Fatebe Deep Frog Organza, 2019
Photograph: Courtesy Magenta Plains
Art, Contemporary art

Ebecho Muslimova, “TRAPS!

icon-location-pin Magenta Plains, Midtown West
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Since 2011, the work of Ebecho Muslimova has centered on the artist’s irrepressible alter ego, Fatebe, whose naked, corpulent figure acrobatically bounces across the artist’s drawings and paintings. Rendered in sweeping cartoon outline, Fatebe is usually alone, confronting nonsensical situations with unconquerable good cheer as she overcomes outlandish depredations that often involve defecation, urination and other acts of abjection; indeed, her vagina and sphincter—which are sometimes elastically stretched with unlikely objects such as pianos or ceiling fans—are often prominently depicted. Born in the former Soviet Union, Muslimova adroitly mines a particularly dark vein of absurdism that feels uniquely Russian. That remains true of her current show, in which Fatebe contends with a plague of frogs among other disasters.

2
Simone Leigh, Brick House, 2019
Photograph: Timothy Schenck, courtesy the High Line
Art, Outdoor art

Simone Leigh, “Brick House”

icon-location-pin High Line Plinth, Upper West Side
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Simone Leigh’s 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a black woman takes its title from the 1977 Motown hit by the Commodores, and portrays its subject as a monumental head crowned by an Afro atop a domed-shaped body resembling a hut. With Brick House, Leigh salutes the strength and fortitude of women in the African Diaspora.

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3
Karl Wirsum, Study for Strangers on a Terrain, 2004
Photograph: Adam Reich, courtesy Derek Eller Gallery
Art, Contemporary art

Karl Wirsum, “Unmixedly at Ease: 50 Years of Drawing”

Karl Wirsum first gained notoriety in Chicago during the 1960s as a key player in the Hairy Who?, a group of Second City artists whose outré figuration played off of comic books and outsider art. Wirsum’s own style, with its colorful mechanomorphic mash-ups of monsters, robots and totemic forms is exemplary of their aesthetic. This survey presents his equally eccentric drawings created over the course of his half-century career.

4
Installation view of Nicolas Party, “Pastel,” 2019
Photograph: Steven Probert, courtesy FLAG Art Foundation
Art, Contemporary art

Nicolas Party, “Pastel”

icon-location-pin FLAG Art Foundation, Chelsea
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A material vulnerable to smudging and fading, pastel—powdered pigment pressed into sticks—became prized during the Rococo period in France for precisely those delicate qualities. It’s since been a staple for working on paper—and, in the case of Nicolas Party, on walls. Featured here are four of Party’s labor-intensive murals, each one overlaid with a framed pastel by another artist. The show delves into the history of the medium with contributions by contemporary artists as well as by canonical figures like Edgar Degas. But mostly, Party focuses on pastel’s 18th-century roots and two masters of the form, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (1715–1783) and Rosalba Carriera (1675–1757). Perronneau’s rosy Portrait of a woman with pink ribbons hangs atop Party’s circular still life of oddly colored fruits, while Party’s room-wrapping detail of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Progress of Love backstops Carriera’s three-quarter Portrait of a Lady. Elsewhere, La Conversation, a Degas rendering of a female couple engaged in a tête-à-tête, is paired with Party’s close-up of the dress from François Boucher’s Portrait of Madame de Pompadour. And Brooklyn artist Robin F. William’s playful depiction of two nude women holding the legs of a naked man who is standing on his head is juxtaposed with Party’s interpretation of another Fragonard, the fleshy Birth of Venus. Party rounds out the proceedings with individually installed pieces on brightly painted walls by artists ranging from Mary Cassatt to Chr

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5
Ron Gorchov, Metallurgy, 1982
Photograph: Courtesy Cheim & Read
Art, Contemporary art

“Ron Gorchov: at the cusp of the 80s, paintings 1979–1983”

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Now 89, Gorchov has spent his career pursuing the same formula of limning simple, biomorphic shapes (often in pairs) against contrasting backgrounds of thinly applied pigment. But the most distinctive aspect of his paintings is their configuration: Instead of using a rectilinear canvas, Gorchov employs linen stretched over a saddle-shaped frame. The results resemble ancient shields, especially when Gorchov’s abstract forms are set in mirror symmetry like the coat of arms of some warring house. Lyrical and painterly, Gorchov’s style departed from the hard edge aesthetics typical of shaped-canvas paintings during the 1960s, and in that respect, his approach wound up having a considerable impact on the emerging Neo-Expressionist painters of the Reagan era. The height of that influence is recalled here in a survey of works created between 1979 and 1983.

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Richard Serra, Nine, 2019
Photograph: Robert McKeever, © 2019 Richard Serra/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy Gagosian
Art, Contemporary art

Richard Serra, “Forged Rounds”

icon-location-pin Gagosian Gallery, Chelsea
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No one does heavy metal heavier than Richard Serra, who is presenting three new bodies of work at as many Gagosian locations. Uptown, the gallery’s Madison Avenue space features a new set of Serra’s monochrome drawings made by pressing oversize sheets of paper into thick layers of black pigment. Gagosian’s W 21st venue is taken up by one of the artist’s signature installations of curving Corten plates. But the work that arguably outweighs them all is his “Forged Rounds” series at the Gagosian flagship on W 24th Street. Comprising arrangements of massive drums fabricated from solid steel, each sculpture tips the scale at exactly 50 tons, though they vary in height and diameter, offering a kind of monumental object lesson in the meaning of mass.

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7
Wangechi Mutu, The NewOnes, will free Us, 2019
Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum Of Art
Art, Contemporary art

“The Facade Commission: Wangechi Mutu, The New Ones, will free Us”

icon-location-pin The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park
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For the first-ever facade commission at the Met, Mutu fills the niches flanking the museum’s entrance with four monumental bronzes that put an Afro-futuristic spin on a classical architectural feature known as a caryatid, a column or pillar that takes the form of an allegorical female figure.

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