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.
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Best free art exhibitions in NYC
As if people needed reminding, Eric Fischl’s latest paintings probe the vast disconnect between the art world and the real world. The centerpiece painting here is a diptych juxtaposing a scene of one-percenters checking their phones at an art fair with one of Syrian refugees washing ashore: A bit blunt, but true enough.
At this point there have been so many practitioners of bad-boy art that it arguably constitutes its own genre—and judging from its embrace by collectors, the style is possibly the most important one, sort of like history painting in the 19th century. Bad-boy art is conceivably unique in its ability to attract the funding necessary for off-the-charts spectacles, with Jordan Wolfson’s show being a prime example. Wolfson’s work checks all the boxes of transgressive attitude, including a willingness to launder good taste in a tub of abjection. Here, a gap-toothed, grimacing marionette resembling a mix of Howdy Doody and Alfred E. Neuman has been scaled up to the size of a Porsche Cayenne. This oversize fantoccini is dangling by chains from an overhead gantry programmed to mop it around the floor, leaving scuff marks on its face and body. Guided by facial-recognition software, its eyes follow you around the room, fixing you with a purgatorial gaze suspended between pain and pleasure. You’re tempted to think of Abu Ghraib until loudspeakers began to blare “When a Man Loves a Woman” as the figure is bashed repeatedly on the floor. Turns out this boy isn’t bad so much as he is vulnerable.
Price is known as a Left-Coast master of ceramic objects whose bright, iridescent glazes and unconventional shapes evoke the mental and physical landscape of Los Angeles. The same could be said for these exquisite works on paper. Made with acrylic and ink, they depict studies for his sculptures as well as interior and exterior scenes suffused with L.A. sunshine noir.
Magnus (1952–2013), a Pittsburgh native who spent his career working in Ohio, was a potter who earned an international reputation for objects that combined inventive imagistic forms with colorful glazes that ran a wide gamut of finishes and techniques. His work drew upon myriad influences, including cave art, modernist abstraction, folk art and Japanese prints, as well as Meso-American and Asian ceramic traditions. He was a regional artist with a worldwide profile—though, surprisingly, not well that well known here. This show, his first in New York, offers a taste of what we’ve been missing.
In recent years, contemporary art has achieved a homogeneity of spirit thanks mainly to money and global connectivity—a state of affairs that finds its highest expression in the myriad art fairs wandering the planet, as indistinguishable from each other as airports. Yet paradoxically, artists still fall into the national character of their country of origin, something I’ve noticed of U.K. artists (Damien Hirst, particularly), in ways that are often annoying. Call it rank prejudice if you’d like, but this solo outing of London artist Ed Atkins does nothing to change my mind. But first, let me contradict myself a bit by allowing that the offerings here—three different video installations on as many floors—are impressive as spectacles. Starring computer-generated avatars voiced by Atkins, they resemble video games and involve the same sort of world-building. But unlike Halo, say, there’s no propelling narrative, just a nightmarish circularity. Disquisitions on a specifically 21st-century nihilism, the works occasionally crackle with dark humor and spooky effects but otherwise left me wanting. Speaking of airports, their role as alienating way stations provides the metaphorical underpinning for Safe Conduct on the top floor. Three panels, each consisting of four enormous flat screens, are joined into a triangular configuration suspended overhead like an arrival/departure board. Instead of flight numbers, it displays a surreal loop of imagery that includes empty baggage carousel
Self-styled as the Naomi Campbell of the art world, Canadian artist Terence Koh made a splashy debut some eight years ago with performances and installations that enlivened a mystical bent with porn references, punk attitude and queer aesthetics. But in 2014, he disappeared to upstate. Being in the woods must have rubbed off on him since his latest show transforms the gallery into a solar-powered “living Garden of Eden,” complete with Apple tree. While there are bees, there’s no sign of a snake.
Collages, performance art, sound pieces and illuminated sculptures await visitors to this solo exhibition of new work by Adams. An artist known for an infectious blend of African and American folk art traditions, Adams unpacks the conditions of contemporary black identity. Building on a previous series of works on paper which delved into how African-Americans view television (and vice-versa), a centerpiece group of nine large-scale, mixed-media wall hangings do double duty as backgrounds for video-taped performances projected on a nearby wall; other galleries present “meditative environments,” including one referencing a 1990s TV mystic named Miss Cleo.
Autistic and non-literate, Laura Craig McNellis has been painting since childhood as a way of communicating her life in Nashville, Tennessee. Applying tempera and marker to blank newsprint with bold simplicity, McNellis often depict rooms and artifacts from her family home in ways both playful, heraldic and genuinely affecting.
An object lesson in how art history isn’t set in stone, this revival of Danish artist Asger Jorn (1914–1973) reveals an artist whose powers as a painter rivaled anyone’s during the 1950s and 1960s. While Jorn was a member of the CoBrA movement, Europe’s analog to Abstract Expressionism, he dipped into figuration in a way that anticipated the Neo-Expression of the 1980s. This gathering of his works offers a chance to catch up with a hugely underrated figure.
Around 1970, Philip Guston, a first-generation Abstract Expressionist, began painting darkly comic figurative canvases that captured the existential angst of the Vietnam era and influenced countless later artists. That legendary transformation makes it impossible to see this impressive exhibition of transitional, nominally abstract paintings—created between 1957 and 1965—without thinking about what came next. Guston’s customary interlocking multi hued forms in the 1959 Painter coalesce into an awkward bipedal scaffolding topped with a peaked scarlet cap that extends toward a crescent swath of sky blue—uncannily presaging his cartoonish self-portraits as a hooded Klansman, smoking and painting. In Garden of M (1960), overlapping ovoids in black and kidney-bean red foreshadow his testicular cyclopean heads of the mid-1970s. Merging the gestural agitation propounded by Willem de Kooning with the enveloping moody color of Mark Rothko, these paintings embody a kind of oceanic alienation. But they also appear to mark a wiping of the slate for Guston, clearing the way for his emergence as a paladin of anxious representation.