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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

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

Photograph: Arturo Sanchez, courtesy of the artist and Jane Lombard Gallery

1. Michael Rakowitz, “The invisible enemy should not exist (Room F, section 1, Northwest Palace of Nimrud)”

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

Jon Pylypchuk, You are covered sweetness, we outlast this worn out time, 2019
Jon Pylypchuk, You are covered sweetness, we outlast this worn out time, 2019
Photograph: Courtesy Petzel Gallery

2. Jon Pylypchuk, “Waiting for the Next Nirvana”

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

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

Art Contemporary art

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.

Installation view of “Third Dimension: Works from The Brant Foundation”
Installation view of “Third Dimension: Works from The Brant Foundation”
Photograph: Tom Powel Imaging, courtesy The Brant Foundation

4. “Third Dimension: Works from The Brant Foundation”

Art Contemporary art The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, East Village

The Brant Foundation’s NYC location follows up its inaugural presentation of Jean-Michel Basquiat with a selection of paintings and sculptures by a list of name-brand artists, ranging from Pop Art icons such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg to current art market faves such as Urs Fisher and Nate Lowman.

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Simone Leigh, Brick House, 2019
Simone Leigh, Brick House, 2019
Photograph: Timothy Schenck, courtesy the High Line

5. Simone Leigh, “Brick House”

Art Outdoor art High Line Plinth, Upper West Side

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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