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NYPL treasures exhibit
Photograph: Max Touhey / NYPL

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.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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Don't waste your time—head to NYC's best museum exhibits now!

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

If you have ever wanted to get inside an artist's head and understand where they were coming from, "Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure" will be the closest thing you'll experience to that. This major exhibition at the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea, has an advantage that many other shows do not have—it was organized and curated by Basquiat's family (with famed architect David Adjaye and design firm Pentagram), who have done a painstaking job of showing both the famous artist's intimate side and his genius.

  • Art
  • Central Park

Get a closer look at more than 60 kimonos at the Met Museum that will show how these traditional Japanese garments transformed over their history. Across the gallery, these gorgeous kimonos will be paired along with Western garments, Japanese paintings, prints, and decorative art objects in thematic and chronological order, from the costumes worn for Japan’s traditional forms of theater, Noh and Kyōgen, to the western-influence of the second half of the 20th century.

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

NYC has been invaded by an army of zombies with an exhibit spotlighting AMC Networks' The Walking Dead. Open as of June 25 at the Museum of the Moving Image, "Living with The Walking Dead" features original costumes and props, concept art, storyboards, scripts and prosthetic makeup material that highlight the show’s origins, production and impact. It'll also has multiple screening series and public events over a six-month span for those interested in the show and learning more about behind the scenes. All in all, there are 500 objects including more than 300 props and production materials to see.

  • Things to do
  • Upper West Side

Insects are misunderstood but a new macro photography exhibition at AMNH hopes to change that. Photographer Levon Biss has photographed 40 endangered species (selected from specimens in the Museum’s world-class research collection), which will be shown as large-format photographs as large as 4.5 by 8 feet in the Akeley Gallery and the adjacent East Galleria. Some of the extinct and endangered specimens are more than 100 years old but are almost brought back to life through the photos that show their extreme detail and intricate features, including the well-known monarch butterfly and the nine-spotted ladybug to the remote Lord Howe Island stick insect of Australia (thought to be extinct for most of the 20th century until a tiny population was discovered and bred in captivity starting in 2003.) Each photograph in Extinct and Endangered took about three weeks to create from up to 10,000 individual images shot using special lenses.

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  • Art
  • Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is back with part two of this year’s flagship exhibition “In America” with “An Anthology of Fashion,” and the new iteration of the show is an even more expansive look at what has defined American fashion over the years. It is a visually splendid tour through hundreds of years of this country’s history told through clothes designed and worn by its citizens. Building on last year’s spartan, intellectually rigorous presentation of garments categorized by the expression of various themes, this year’s show explodes across most of the American Wing of the museum.

  • Things to do
  • Midtown West

Hundreds of items have been pulled from the New York Public Library's expansive and centuries-spanning archive to be put on display—many of them for the first time—in a permanent exhibition called "The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures." Inside the NYPL's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and its beautiful Gottesman Hall, are more than 250 unique and rare items culled from its research centers spanning 4,000 years of history and includes a wide range of history-making pieces, including the only surviving letter from Christoper Columbus announcing his "discovery" of the Americas to King Ferdinand’s court and the first Gutenberg Bible brought over to the Americas.

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  • Art
  • Art

The Whitney Biennial has been a long time coming. Originally meant to open in 2021, the 80th edition combines three years of planning as well as 63 artists and collectives to present an event that has been described as both "dynamic" and timely by its curators. "Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as It’s Kept," which opens April 6, is broken up into two experiences on the fifth and sixth floors of the Meatpacking District building. Each one presents a completely different atmosphere—on the sixth floor is a cavernous, labyrinth-like gallery, and on the fifth floor is an open and airy room where works are displayed together.  The exhibition mimics the range of emotions we felt during the past two years, from fear and pain to joy and hope, and everything in between.

  • Things to do
  • Upper West Side

Just in time for Black History Month, the New-York Historical Society is bringing Frederick Douglass’ vision of freedom, citizenship and equal rights to life in a new ongoing special installation. A range of artifacts and documents illustrate Douglass’ vision, including illustrations from the popular press of the time and scrapbooks of articles by or about Douglass compiled by his sons that also documented his work to usher in a more just country. Visitors will also see speech excerpt from his contemporary, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who raises the question of gender in step with Douglass’ ideas about racial equality. Political cartoons and a copy of an editorial that Douglass wrote about Chinese immigrants’ right to belong in the U.S. in the Chinese American newspaper are also on view. The maquette of a statue of Douglass erected on the campus of the University of Maryland in 2015, which was gifted to the late Congressman John Lewis, is also on display and a recreation of the Douglass statue, painted to be lifelike, greets visitors to the Museum at the 77th Street entrance.

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  • Art

European artists take center stage in a new installation at the Brooklyn Museum. "Monet to Morisot: The Real and Imagined in European Art" opens next month, presenting nearly 100 pieces by the likes of Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Vasily Kandinsky, among others. The works—which range in theme, scope and material—are all renowned holdings of the museum but they have not been on view together in Brooklyn since 2016.

 

  • Art
  • East Harlem

Head to the Museum of the City of New York to see 100 photographs selected from the more than 1,000 images recently gifted to the Museum by the Joy of Giving Something (JGS), a non-profit organization dedicated to the photographic arts. Images range from documentary-style to quirky and from architectural to atmospheric. “Celebrating the City” features works by more than 30 creators new to the MCNY collection, including multiple images from Helen Levitt’s dynamic and celebrated street photography; Sylvia Plachy’s playful and eccentric examination of the people, animals, and moments of NYC; and Michael Spano’s slice-of-life city shots spanning the 1990s and 2000s. Other key figures in 20th-century photography are incorporated into the show, including Ilse Bing, Bruce Davidson, Mitch Epstein, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, William Kline, Saul Leiter, Alfred Stieglitz, Rosalind Solomon, and Paul Strand, to name a few—all capturing indelible, sometimes implausible, intimate, and often incredible moments of the city. You'll even see a llama in Times Square, fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge, polar bears playing in a pool at the zoo as well as subways, skylines, shadows, and stolen moments.

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  • Things to do
  • Flatiron

The Museum of Sex always has something exciting going on behind closed doors. "Super Funland: Journey into the Erotic Carnival" is back and better than ever with its 4-D immersive “Tunnel of Love” ride, the Love & Lust Deity Derby game, an erotic fortune-telling machine (modeled as RuPaul), a kissing booth, the Glory Stall game, an immersive "Stardust Lane - the Erogenous Kaleidoscope," an erotic mechanical bull and a lit-up climbing structure, "The Climbx," and more. Then when it's time to take the edge off, visitors can slide down a spiral slide into the Museum’s psychedelic carnival bar, Lollipop Lounge, for cocktails. 

  • 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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  • Things to do
  • City Life

Can you imagine how grim our world would be without the influence of Jim Henson? For those of us who learned comedy, whimsy and even literacy from Sesame Street and the Muppet franchise, the Museum of the Moving Image has provided the ultimate treat: a permanent exhibition featuring over 47 Muppet and puppet characters; 27 screens of archival footage from The Dark Crystal, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock and beyond; and stories of how the great genius and his architects brought to life some of our favorite characters.

  • Things to do
  • Upper West Side

Insects are misunderstood but a new macro photography exhibition at AMNH hopes to change that. Photographer Levon Biss has photographed 40 endangered species (selected from specimens in the Museum’s world-class research collection), which will be shown as large-format photographs as large as 4.5 by 8 feet in the Akeley Gallery and the adjacent East Galleria.

Some of the extinct and endangered specimens are more than 100 years old but are almost brought back to life through the photos that show their extreme detail and intricate features, including the well-known monarch butterfly and the nine-spotted ladybug to the remote Lord Howe Island stick insect of Australia (thought to be extinct for most of the 20th century until a tiny population was discovered and bred in captivity starting in 2003.) Each photograph in Extinct and Endangered took about three weeks to create from up to 10,000 individual images shot using special lenses.

“We are delighted to showcase Levon Biss’s breathtaking photographs to engage, inspire, and educate our visitors about the critical need to conserve these glorious and diverse animals which, though small, are essential to Earth’s complex ecosystems,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History.  “We look forward to further educating about insects when we open the spectacular Solomon Family Insectarium next year as part of the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, which will also feature Biss’s stunning photography.” 

More on museums in NYC

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