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Whitney Biennial 2022
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

Year in Review: The five best art exhibits we saw in 2022

Museum shows, public art and immersive experiences.

Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Will Gleason
Shaye Weaver

In NYC, we're spoiled with blockbuster art exhibitions, a vast gallery scene and prodigious public art. When looking back over 2022, considering the hundreds of visual art shows to grace the city this year, there are five that we'll be talking about long after December 31. 

It was tough to narrow down the list to just a few of the best, and there are many honorable mentions we must shout out first, including The Whitney’s “no existe un mundo poshuracán“ exploring Puerto Rican Art after Hurricane Maria, the staggeringly hyperrealistic NOTaMUSEUM pop-up and the takeover by jaguar sculptures around town, to name a few. Now, without further ado, here are Time Out New York's top five art exhibits of the year. 

RECOMMENDED: Here's what coming to The Met in 2023, including a major Van Gogh exhibit

Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion
Photograph: Artothek / Bridgeman Images| Gustav Klimt, Water Serpents II, 1904-07, private collection

5. “Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion”

"Goblin mode" may be the Oxford dictionary's word of the year, but in NYC, the word of the year was "immersive." It seemed like everything was immersive this year, from art to theater to holiday experiences.

One immersive art exhibit stood out from the rest, though. Gustav Klimt's floral paintings practically drip down the walls at the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, the city's oldest savings bank, which has been transformed into a center for immersive art experiences called Hall des Lumières. 

The architecture of the space—massive columns and soaring arches—brings a fresh energy to the show, leveling up from the standard warehouse space. “Gold in Motion” manages to elevate typical digital projections to the realm of sumptuous, sexy and scintillating.

Before you go, read up on the Austrian painter a bit because the show doesn't include any background, context or history about him until after you see the immersive exhibit (we'd like to see that change for future displays). Tickets are still available starting at $35.

Met Museum
Photograph: Delia Barth

4.  “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”

All summer, visitors lined up in the sacred halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a look at the fashions that have defined America over the years.

In addition to charting fashions of the era, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” also documented American history. For example, visitors saw a coat worn by George Washington (possibly to his inauguration), the Brooks Brothers jacket that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in and a coat that was once part of a uniform worn by an enslaved man.

Each room offered a distinct setting with details true to the period. We’re still dreaming of going to a party in the 20th-century living room once designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

3. “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure”

This exhibit is so popular, its run was extended twice. If you haven’t seen it yet, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure” is now on through January 1, 2023 in Chelsea (adult tickets range from $32-$40). 

The show offers a peek inside Jean-Michel Basquiat’s creative process through more than 200 rarely-seen works. You’ll see the artwork in creatively designed spaces, such as re-creations of the artist’s NYC studio on Great Jones Street and the Basquiat family home.

One of the things that makes this show so special and such an intimate experience is that it was designed with the late artist's family, specifically his sisters Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, in collaboration with Ileen Gallagher and ISG Productions Ltd. 

"I want people to walk away with inspiration, hope and confidence in themselves to do the same thing with whatever it is for them—whether it’s painting, music or being an accountant," Lisane Basquiat said earlier this year. "To live their lives with that same commitment, dedication and grit." 

"A Clockwork" and "Laugh Track, or My Window" by Sable Elyse Smith Whitney Biennial
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

2. The Whitney Biennial

Thanks to pandemic delays, we had to wait even longer than expected for The Whitney Biennial, but this year's rendition was so worth the wait. The 80th edition of the Biennial brought together three years of planning as well as 63 artists and collectives for a very of-the-moment show. The Whitney Biennial is the longest-running survey of American art; it typically occurs every two years. 

This year's pieces included a giant Ferris-wheel-type of artwork made with furniture designed for prison visitation; a trio of larger-than-life sculptures by Charles Ray depicting "emblems of our historical moment: drug-altered, precariously employed, drunk on beer and debt;" a depiction of the protests following George Floyd's killing; and an exploration of how palm trees have been weaponized by governments.

The artwork took over two floors of the museum in the Meatpacking District, each one presenting a completely different atmosphere. 

Photograph: David Levene

1. Little Amal

Nothing captivated the city this year quite like Little Amal. The 12-foot-tall puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl paraded through New York City this fall with a throng of loyal followers who wanted to catch a glimpse of her. A feat of sculpture and puppetry, Little Amal was inspired by a character in the Off-Broadway play The Jungle, which is returning to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn this winter (buy a ticket for the show here).

In New York this fall, Little Amal visited all five boroughs over the span of about two weeks. Since she began her travels in 2021, Amal has visited 13 countries.  

We always appreciate public art because it's free and accessible, but we especially adore Little Amal for her role as an international symbol of human rights, specifically highlighting the plight of refugees. She represents all children fleeing war, violence and persecution with the urgent message: "Don’t forget about us."

New York certainly won't, Amal.

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