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Studio 54: Night Magic
Photograph: Courtesy Jonathan Dorado / Brooklyn Museum

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.

By Shaye Weaver and Collier Sutter
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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

Making The Met
Making The Met
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1. "Making the Met: 1870-2020"

Art Metropolitan Museum of Art, Midtown West

"Making the Met: 1870-2020," takes you on a journey through the institution's history through more than 250 artworks it secured and displayed from its inception through today. Broken up by transitional moments in the evolution of the museum's collection, buildings, and ambitions, you'll see a thoughtful reflection on where it's been and where it's going. 

You'll see everything from visitor favorites to fragile treasures that can only be placed on view from time to time. I saw famous Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, and John Singer Sargent paintings, a photograph of Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon and a 1960s mod dress from Yves Saint Laurent, religious art like an ornate Hebrew Bible from the 1300s, antiquities from around the globe such as an Egyptian statue of Hatshepsut and a Neo-Hittite decorative stone slab, and so much more.

Away from the Easel Jackson Pollock Mural at the Guggenheim
Away from the Easel Jackson Pollock Mural at the Guggenheim
Photograph: Time Out/Shaye Weaver

2. "Away from the Easel: Jackson Pollock’s Mural"

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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Gilberto Rivera Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration
Gilberto Rivera Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration
Photograph: Courtesy MoMA PS1/Matthew Septimus

3. "Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration"

Art MoMA PS1, Long Island City

PS1 is taking an important look at the life of people in prisons and those no longer behind bars through their art that deals with issues of state repression, erasure, and imprisonment, as well as the COVID-19 crisis in U.S. prisons. Installations include Rorschach-like portraits of black Americans who were killed in police-involved shootings, a mural made of 39 prison-issued sheets at 40 feet long and 15 feet tall and more. The exhibition is a powerful exploration of the social and cultural impact of mass incarceration.

Cinematic Illumination by Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver MoMA
Cinematic Illumination by Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver MoMA
Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

4. "Cinematic Illumination" by Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver

Art Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Midtown West

Gulliver’s chromatic video installation is projected across 360 degrees to bring the 1960s underground Tokyo discotheque, Killer Joe’s, to life before your eyes. By beaming images from 18 slide projectors across the discotheque, he created an immersive environment that melds the sights and sounds of the underground venue through the about 1,500 slides. The work portrays “a booming postwar youth culture that tapped into global psychedelia” that reigned in the 1960s.

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The Lotus Effect Rubin Museum
The Lotus Effect Rubin Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Rubin Museum of Art/Filip Wolak

5. "The Lotus Effect" at the Rubin Museum of Art

Art The Rubin Museum of Art, Chelsea

On display at The Rubin Museum is a beautiful collection of origami lotus flowers that visitors folded themselves and dedicated to someone or something that got them through a difficult time. The lotus takes root in murky waters and bursts into a beautiful bloom above the surface, according to the museum. They are often portrayed in scroll paintings and sculptures that you can see in the museum’s collection. They usually appear in the hands of gods and goddesses, as decoration on their thrones, and as part of vivid landscapes and represent awakening, transformation and compassion. Origami artist Uttam Grandhi has provided video instructions on how to fold your own lotus that you can contribute to the installation with. 

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.
Photograph: Collection of Musealia / Museum of Jewish Heritage / John Halpern

6. "Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away"

Art Museum of Jewish Heritage, Battery Park City

This heartbreaking and important exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz and its role in the Holocaust features more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world. The collection includes artifacts from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, including hundreds of personal items—such as suitcases, eyeglasses, and shoes—that belonged to survivors and victims of Auschwitz, which are on view for the first time in North America. Other artifacts include concrete posts that were part of the fence of the Auschwitz camp; fragments of an original barrack for prisoners from the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp; a desk and other possessions of the first and the longest-serving Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss; a gas mask used by the SS; Picasso’s Lithograph of Prisoner; and an original German-made Model 2 freight train car used for the deportation of Jews to the ghettos and extermination camps in occupied Poland.

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Brian Clark: The Art of Light Museum of Arts & Design
Brian Clark: The Art of Light Museum of Arts & Design
Photograph: Courtesy Jenna Bascom

7. "Brian Clark: The Art of Light"

Art Museum of Arts & Design, Hell's Kitchen

Get immersed in the vivid, saturated and dramatic stained glass works of Brian Clarke, who has been one of the world's most prominent stained glass artists. You can walk between and around 20 free-standing, glass screens that almost come to life with changing light. Since the early 1970s, Clarke has collaborated with some of the world’s most prominent architects to create stained-glass designs and installations for hundreds of projects worldwide. 

Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch
Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch
Photograph: Courtesy Bronx Museum

8. "Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch"

Art Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Bronx

This is the first survey of quilt-based works by Sanford Biggers and features more than 50 pieces that seamlessly weave American history into a broader context of global traditions and styles, the Bronx Museum says. Biggers' work is "deeply informed by African American history and traditions but references urban culture, the body, sacred geometry, and American symbolism," the museum says.

"Codeswitch" refers the series known as the "Codex series" and to the idea of code-switching, or shifting from one linguistic code to another depending on the social context.

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Six Decades Collecting Self-Taught Art
Six Decades Collecting Self-Taught Art
Photograph: Courtesy Folk Art Museum

9. "Six Decades Collecting Self-Taught Art"

Art American Folk Art Museum, Upper West Side

Not everyone has to go to school to produce art. This exhibition embraces "diverse narratives and finds entry to connect these works of hand, heart, and mind to our contemporary perceptions," the museum says. Works on view include those by Edward Hicks and other 19th century artists as well 20th and 21st century works by Aloise Corbaz, Henry Darger, Horace Pippin, and Judith Scott.

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