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Met Museum Rooftop Commission Alex Da Corte As Long as the Sun Lasts
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The best museum exhibitions in NYC right now

Searching for listings and reviews for the best New York museum exhibitions and shows? We have you covered.

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Written by
Shaye Weaver
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New York City has tons of things going for it, from incredible buildings to breathtaking parks. But surely, the top of the list includes NYC’s vast array of museums, covering every field of culture and knowledge: There are quirky museums and interactive museums, free museums and world-beating art institutions like the Metropolitan Museum. Between them, they offer so many exhibitions, of every variety and taste, that it's hard to keep track of them. But if you’ve starting to suffer a sudden attack of FOMA, fear not! We've got you covered with our select list of the best museum exhibitions in NYC.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to museums in NYC

Best museum exhibitions in NYC

  • Art
  • Art

This year's Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden Commission features a very familiar friend—Big Bird. That's right, the beloved Sesame Street character with feathers and a beak features prominently in the artwork by Alex Da Corte. Dubbed As Long as the Sun Lasts, the commission stands 26 feet tall and seems to balance Big Bird, who is sitting on the moon holding a ladder, on one side and a modern mobile on the other. The sculpture is kinetic, meaning it moves with the wind. The artwork is simply sublime because it spotlights the wholesome innocence of our favorite feathered friend in a fun, creative way—on top of the most iconic and revered art museum in New York City. Big Bird is covered in about 7,000 individually placed laser-cut aluminum feathers and perched on a crescent moon with a ladder in hand. According to The Met, it could suggest passage back to Earth or to other galaxies, but he's alone, gazing at the city skyline, which almost feels lonely or melancholic. This feeling is amplified with Da Corte's choice to make Big Bird in blue, rather than in his classic yellow. 

  • Things to do
  • City Life

Like something out of a 1950s horror film, six giant red tentacles are reaching into the sky above the Coney Island boardwalk. Luckily for us, it's part of a massive poster advertising the New York Aquarium's new "Spineless" exhibit about the world of invertebrates including octopuses, squid, sea anemones, jellyfish, and other sea animals that lack backbones. The huge poster stretches across a portion of the aquarium's education building and features a massive octopus with eight tentacles with the upper half of six of them continuing into the air as inflatable arms. "Spineless" opened in August 2020 and highlights the ocean’s invertebrates by giving visitors a close-up view of the big-brained giant—a Giant Pacific Octopus—in a pop-up bubble within the animal’s habitat and pulsing jellyfish in three habitats. More than 20 species of animals including squid, cuttlefish, lobsters, crabs, sea anemones, sponges are on view.

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  • Art
  • Art

Iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has officially taken over the New York Botanical Garden with her whimsical pumpkins and flower sculptures. Not to mention, one of her popular infinity rooms. Her landmark exhibition, "KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature," is on glorious display all across the garden in four different experiences on its landscape, in and around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building. Visitors will come across her sculptures and installations almost randomly, like you might happen upon a beautiful flower in nature. Her work makes you stop in your tracks and connect with it.

 

  • Art
  • Art

A new stunning exhibit of massive sculptures is coming to MoMA PS1 this spring. The art show, "Structures for Life" opening March 11, puts a spotlight on feminist artist Niki de Saint Phalle's with 200 works on view, including sculptures, prints, drawings, jewelry, films, and archival materials. It'll be the first show in NYC to review her work. The biggest draw for this PS1 exhibit will be Saint Phalle's large-scale outdoor sculptures called Nanas as well as models of architectural projects including, Le rêve de l’oiseau (built for Rainer von Diez between 1968 and 1971); Golem, a playground in Jerusalem that is a big black and white monster with three tongues; Le Dragon de Knokke, a children’s playhouse in Belgium that looks like a giant monster with a long tongue and tail; and La Fontaine Stravinsky, a whimsical fountain that moves and sprays water. Nanas are her series of large, brightly colored sculptures of female figures. A seven-foot-tall sculpture called Clarice Again will welcome visitors to the show's gallery.

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  • Art
  • Art

"Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America," a new exhibition that has taken over almost the entirety of the New Museum and is set to stay put until June 6, explores the history of racist violence all throughout the United States. Back in 2018, curator Okwui Enwezor began working on the project, hoping to mount it by last year's Presidential election. Unfortunately, the curator's passing in 2019 and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic forced a shift in plans that delayed the show's opening to last week. In total, the work of 37 Black artists currently fills the museum's lobby, its three main viewing floors, the building's exterior and the South Gallery found in the building next door. Expect to browse through the amazing works of artists the likes of Kara Walker, who is the brain behind an entire wall filled with sketches and drawings; LaToya Ruby Frazier, who contributes over a dozen photographs from her "The Notion of Family" series; and Jean-Michael Basquiat, whose "Procession" can be glanced at as soon as the elevator doors open on the third floor. The show is a powerful one, with images ranging in style, theme and scope, but one that is necessary to delve into today more than ever. Given COVID-19-related guidelines, visitors have to purchase timed tickets ahead of their trip. Feel free to do so right here.

  • Art
  • Gramercy

Your eyes will feast on the bold colors, varied textures and patterns that call your attention in this exhibit of Hassan Hajjaj’s photography. The immersive exhibit showcases five series Hajjaj developed over three decades that captures popular culture, street style, hip-hop and haute couture—all of which challenges the viewer through an eclectic confrontation of styles, and invites them to re-examine cultural stereotypes and cliches, Fotografiska says. Hajjaj asked local women to pose wearing his creations (traditional Moroccan djellabas, hijabs, caftans and babouches covered with candy-colored polka dots, leopard prints or counterfeit brand logos) in the streets of the Medina, often parodying the poses typical of Western models. The title "VOGUE, The Arab Issue" has a double meaning—“issue” refers not only to a copy of the monthly magazine but also to an important topic or problem for debate or discussion, one he also probes in his video Naabz and the series "Hijabs and Handpainted
Portraits."

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  • Art
  • Chelsea

The Rubin Museum of Art's newest exhibit invites you to unplug and free your mind through Tibetan Buddhist art, including 35 traditional objects, including 14 from the Rubin Museum’s collection, with two contemporary works by Nepal-born, Tibetan American artist Tsherin Sherpa. "Awaken" features works from the 7th and 21st centuries including stone, wood, and metal sculptures, traditional Tibetan hanging scroll paintings, illuminated manuscript pages and vibrant contemporary pieces. Through these, the exhibition introduces the central teachings of Tibetan Buddhism as visitors "progress through 10 milestones on the journey from the chaos of ordinary life to the awakened states of awareness." 

  • Art
  • Art

The Frick Collection is starting a new chapter after 85 gorgeous years at its 1 East 70th Street mansion. On March 15, The Frick Madison opened at 945 Madison Avenue—the former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Met Breuer—while Henry Clay Frick's mansion undergoes a massive renovation. This new stint will last two years, and while the Brutalist building by Marcel Breuer is a huge departure from the Gilded Age mansion, the space is offering a much different and rare look at the collection, according to museum officials. Unlike at the Frick Mansion, the Breuer building is a clean slate—stark in contrast, which actually helps to attract the viewer's attention to individual works. Eyes aren't busy looking at ornate furniture here. It's all about seeing the smaller details in the artwork that you might have overlooked at the mansion. According to Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Director Ian Wardropper, "It's a different Frick than you’ve ever known."

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  • Art
  • Art

Over the last year, it’s often felt like reality has fractured. Now, a new exhibition opening in Chelsea’s ARTECHOUSE space will let you actually step into a fractal dimension. Geometric Properties: An Immersive Audio-Visual Journey Through Fractal Dimensions,” is the first solo exhibition of Dutch artist Julius Horsthuis’ work to come to NYC. Previously, his work has been featured in Manchester by the Sea and through collaborations with musical artists like ODESZA, Meshuggah and Birds of Paradise. He uses fractals to create alternate science-fiction-like realities using visual art and motion graphics, and they are a real trip, to say the least. The digital art destination on Manhattan’s west side (it’s literally located in Chelsea Market’s former boiler room) is opening the new show on March 1, and it will be on view through September 6. If you want to stop by and check out the endless geometric iterations and fractional dimensions for yourself—you frickin' fractal freak you—tickets cost $24 for adults and $17 for children. (Pro tip: New York and New Jersey residents receive a $5 discount on tickets on weekdays.) Check out a few more trippy images from the upcoming show by clicking through.

At the Guggenheim, you'll get to see the first major painting by Pollock that was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim for her home in 1943. "Mural," as it simply called, hasn't been shown in New York in more than 20 years. It's about 20 feet wide and 8 feet tall—the largest of Pollock's works. 

Guggenheim paid the artist a monthly stipend that allowed him to paint full-time, which helped him establish his career—he had his first solo exhibition at the museum after the commission. It was during this time that he started to experiment further with abstraction.

"Mural" has been at Iowa's Stanley Museum of Art, where Guggenheim donated it, until now.

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