Best free art exhibitions in NYC
Since the 18th-century, the Mahafaly people of South Madagascar have created tomb sculptures called aloalo, which commemorate deceased individuals with vertical, polelike totems carved from wood. This show focuses on the work of Efiaimbelo, an aloalo practitioner noted for his vibrantly colored, modernizing takes on the tradition. On his death in 2006, he passed on his practice to his son and grandson, who have continued his life’s work to become aloalo disciples in their own right. Their sculptures join Efiaimbelo’s in this showcase of the family’s remarkable achievements.
In her NYC gallery debut, biracial L.A. artist Gaignard presents photographic self-portraits and installations that delve into race, gender and body image.
An inspiration for artists ranging from Basquiat to the Beastie Boys, Rammellzee (1960–2010) was a pioneer of hip-hop, graffiti art and Afro-futurism. His unique career is recalled in this survey.
Bad-boy Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is best known for erotic depictions ranging from bondage scenes to images of Yakuza members having sex with prostitutes. Still, even with his heavily fetishized approach to sexuality, he’s always framed the subject within the larger context of the natural world—as in this show, where floral still lifes and expanses of sky share space with paint-doused images of female nudes and close-ups of genitalia.
Art can arise from the strangest of circumstances—as in the case of Orra White Hitchcock, one of America’s first women botanical and scientific illustrators. The wife of Edward Hitchcock, a professor of natural sciences at Amherst, Orra White Hitchcock created drawings—including images of flora and fauna, and geological strata—that were used for her husband’s publications and classroom lectures. The results, which in some instances seem to meld into pure abstraction, are visually stunning.
Climate change and New York City’s maritime history are the intertwined themes in this pair of public art projects. In Wake, a 21-foot-tall animatronic female sculpture (a replica of the figurehead the once graced the prow of the 19th-century clipper ship, USS Nightingale—which, during its lifetime, included guns and slaves as part of the manifest) presides over an installation of wooden ribs that evoke a shipwreck or the skeleton of a sea creature. Meanwhile, in a nearby pavilion, Unmoored invites visitors to don VR goggles and view Times Square as it would appear after rising sea levels transform it into a midtown version of Waterworld.
The sculptures of Syrian-born Brooklyn artist Diana Al-Hadid are known for commenting on history, globalism and the human condition through a haunting mix of fragmentary figuration and abstraction. “Delirious Matter” represents the artist’s first major public art project and comprises six new installations spread out over Madison Square Park.
For nearly a half century, Cuban artist Manuel Mendive has explored the religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa, whose homeland includes parts of present-day Nigeria, Benin and Togo. Aspects of their spiritual tradition have been passed down—mainly through the slave trade—to Caribbean religions such as Voodoo and Santeria, both of which are practiced in Cuba. Mendive’s multidisciplinary approach to the subject includes performances that re-enact Yoruba-inspired rituals.
British-Nigerian artist Shonibare (who appends the MBE to his name in recognition of his receiving the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) is adding some additional color to Central Park with an undulating Fiberglass sculpture covered in bold shapes sporting a palette of bright hues. According to the artist, the scheme is inspired by the beaches near his childhood home in Lagos, Nigeria, but they also recall the batik fabrics (produced in Indonesia by the Dutch to export to Colonial Africa) that have become signature references in his work.
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