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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.

Photograph: Morgan T. Stuart
By Howard Halle and Heather Corcoran |
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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

1
Alicja Kwade, ParaPivot, 2019
Hyla Skopitz, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Art, Contemporary art

“The Roof Garden Commission: Alicja Kwade, ParaPivot”

icon-location-pin The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park
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Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade brings the music of the spheres to the Met’s rooftop garden for this year’s annually commissioned outdoor-art installation. Stones quarried in Brazil, Norway and seven other countries have been rounded and polished into globes that represent the nine planets of our solar system. Perched on an armature that resembles an oversize jungle gym, these objects serve to remind us of our place in the universe, adding a cosmic frisson to your experience of taking in all those amazing rooftop views of midtown and Central Park.

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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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Field Armor of Maximilian I, 1480, detail
Photograph: Bruce White, © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Art, Renaissance art

“The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I”

icon-location-pin The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park
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Marking the 500th Anniversary of the death of Maximilian I (1459–1519), The Metropolitan Museum goes medieval on your ass with a truly metal exhibition centered on his life and times as the Holy Roman Emperor who reigned over large swaths of Europe during the first decades of the 16th-century. Considering that Maximilian expanded his rule by waging war, armor came in especially handy, and the show presents stunning examples crafted by the continent’s A-list armorers, including one suit exquisitely filigreed in gold and copper. Rounding things out are manuscripts, paintings, sculpture, glass, tapestry and toys related to his rule.

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Photograph: David Heald, © 2019 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Art, Contemporary art

“The Hugo Boss Prize 2018: Simone Leigh, Loophole of Retreat”

icon-location-pin Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side
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The Guggenheim bestows the twelfth edition of its annual $100,000 prize and accompanying solo exhibition to sculptor Simone Leigh whose work could be described as a kind of homage to the strength and fortitude that African-American women have displayed in the face of adversity throughout American history, from the travails of slavery to the Black Lives Matter protests of today. One such figure was Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897), and abolitionist and former slave who wrote a harrowing account of her years hiding from her masters in the rafters of her grandmother’s house. Her story provides the inspiration for the exhibition, which includes ceramic objects and a sound installation. This year has shaped up to be a huge one for the Chicago-born artist: In addition to this show, she’s appeared in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, and has also inaugurated the High Line’s new public art platform, The Plinth, with a monumental, 16-foot-tall bust of a black woman.

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(artist)
Photograph: Allison Chipak, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Art, Contemporary art

“Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection”

icon-location-pin Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side
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The Guggenheim’s latest show is a high-concept affair with an elevator pitch that goes something like this: Ask six well-known artists (Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chan, Jenny Holzer, Julie Mehretu, Richard Prince and Carrie Mae Weems) who’ve previously exhibited at the museum to select works from its holdings, then give them each a level of the rotunda to mount a show according to their wishes. The result is a series of visual mixtapes, introduced by wall texts that lay out the various premises in portentous tones. Overall, the exhbition is based on the assumption that an artist’s perspective is sexier than a curator’s—or, at least, more of a draw for audiences. The latter may be true, though your mileage may vary on just how enlightened you’ll feel as you take in everything. In his section “Non-Brand,” Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang digs up pieces made by canonical figures before they developed their mature style—or, as Cai sees it, their brand. Mainly, his selection involves representational images by names associated with abstraction—for example, still lifes by Mondrian and Rothko and a figure study by Hilla Rebay. The point, perhaps, is that this sort of work is as valuable as the artists’ signature efforts, but who, exactly, argues otherwise? Cai muddles matters by hanging the work in an undifferentiated mass high on the wall, where it’s hard to see. With “Four Paintings Looking Right,” Richard Prince, who made his bones on intellectual property theft, meditates on the issue o

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6
Catherine Opie, Dyke, 1993
Photograph: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, © 2019 Catherine Opie
Art, Contemporary art

“Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now”

icon-location-pin Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side
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A 1993 donation of some 200 works by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–89) jump-started the Guggenheim’s photography collection, so it’s only appropriate for the museum to mark the 30th anniversary of his death from AIDS with this institutional tribute. Mapplethorpe created some of the most beautiful and iconic photos (black-and-white nudes, portraits and flower studies, among them) of the 1970s and ’80s. A formal perfectionist, he was attacked by the religious right and its proxies for explicit depictions of gay sex—particularly of the S&M variety—as well as for pictures of naked children. He was also criticized from the other end of the ideological spectrum for his erotic photos of black men, which many deemed objectifying. This exhibition, the second part of a yearlong project, contrasts 16 of Mapplethorpe’s works with nearly two dozen pieces by six queer artists from succeeding generations. They include four gay African-American men, with the work of one, Glenn Ligon, directly critiquing Mapplethorpe. In his Notes on the Margins of the Black Book (1991–93), Ligon appropriates images from The Black Book, Mapplethorpe’s 1988 volume of photos of (often naked) black men and presents them alongside framed comments, ranging from academic to anecdotal to utterly personal. Quietly devastating, Ligon’s piece is now considered to be as important as the original itself. Envisioning the politics of race and sex more literally, Paul Mpagi Sepuya poses naked in front of the camera while usin

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7
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983
Photograph: Allison Chipak, © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2018, © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, licensed by Artestar, New York
Art, Contemporary art

“Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story”

icon-location-pin Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side
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You know you’re a big name in art history when a museum decides to build an entire exhibition around one of your works, and of course, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) is just that sort of artist. The work in question in this Guggenheim show is Basquiat’s The Death of Michael Stewart, painted 1983 to commemorate the eponymous graffiti artist who died in police custody after being arrested while tagging a subway wall. The event was one of several racially charged controversies that dogged the mayoral administration of Ed Koch, but it seized the attention of the art world in particular. Basquiat created the piece, also known as Defacement, in Keith Haring’s studio and never intended to have it shown. Artistic intentions, however, tend to be overlooked by the demands of the art market, and so, Defacement is being surfaced as a sort of pre-Black-Lives-Matter statement—which it certainly was. The Guggenheim surrounds the piece with other canvases by the artist, along with contributions by Haring, Warhol, Stewart himself and ephemera (newspapers, etc.) related to the incident.

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Tuesday Smillie, S.T.A.R., 2012
Photograph: © Tuesday Smillie, courtesy the artist
Art, Contemporary art

“Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall”

icon-location-pin Brooklyn Museum | Brooklyn, NY, Prospect Park
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This year has seen a series of Golden-Anniversary celebrations of seminal events (the moon landing, Woodstock), but none of them had a more profound long-term effect on society than the Stonewall Riots, which launched the modern gay rights movement five decades ago. To measure its continuing impact, 28 LGBTQ+ artists, born after 1969, look back on Stonewall’s legacy and the world—their world—to which it gave birth.

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Installation view, Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion
Photograph: Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum
Art, Contemporary art

“Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion”

icon-location-pin Brooklyn Museum | Brooklyn, NY, Prospect Park
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Space-Age fashion was never so space-y as it was in the hands of Cardin, whose bold, futuristic designs brought a Jetsonian aesthetic to the runway. Unisex bodysuits, vinyl miniskirts and visored headgear were just part of a mad, mod look that also extended to Cardin’s line of furnishings and accessories. A selection of 170 objects drawn from Cardin’s atelier and archive traces his career from the 1960s to today.

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Photograph: Scenocosme: Gregory Lasserre (b. 1976, Annecy, France) & Anaïs met den Ancxt (b. 1981, Lyon, France); Metamorphy; 2014; interactive installation; courtesy of the artists
Things to do, Exhibitions

“The Power of Intention: Reinventing the (Prayer) Wheel”

Many of the most visually audacious and immersive exhibitions in NYC turn into selfie traps. The Rubin’s “Power of Intention: Reinventing the (Prayer) Wheel” is not that kind of show—or, at least, it asks you to be fully present and mindful instead of  Instagramming. Of the numerous works of interactive contemporary art inspired by Tibetan Buddhist practices, we suggest checking out Scenocosme’s “Metamorphy” (pictured): When you touch the piece’s fabric membrane, it conjures up a “storm” using motion-sensing camera projection. The installation will make you  think about how your energy affects the karma of the world.

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11
Rube Goldberg, Inventions ( Bell-Buoy, Soup Spoon, Golf ), c. 1938–1941
Photograph: © Rube Goldberg Inc.
Art, Drawing

“The Art of Rube Goldberg”

icon-location-pin Queens Museum, Queens
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Rube Goldberg (1883–1970) became synonymous with the idea of fixing a simply problem with convoluted means. His renderings of intricate machines took absurdly complicated paths to, say, closing a window or lighting a cigar. Reflecting his training as an engineer, as well as to his sideline as an actual inventor, these images took satirical aim at modern society, and its unshakable belief in progress. This exhibit takes stock of the man behind the meme with a selection of original drawings for cartoons that were widely syndicated in newspapers throughout the first half of the 20th century.

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