New York City is home to some of the greatest museums in the United States and the world. With 83 museums in the five boroughs and subject matters ranging from world masters and design to folk art, immigration, and contemporary art, it can be overwhelming to choose if you are just visiting the city for a few days. Here’s our recommended list.
1. Metropolitan Museum Of Art (The Met)
The largest museum in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a vast conglomeration of galleries covering 5,000 years of the most significant periods and styles of art. Opened in 1870, the museum has over 2,000,000 pieces of art in its collection. Galleries include Asian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Islamic art, and Africa, Oceana, and the Americas. The American Wing, European Paintings, European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, and Arms and Armor are among the other galleries.
The costume collection is one of the most visited galleries, and every year the museum launches a temporary show with a specific theme. The exhibit starts the day after the famous, celebrity-studded Met Ball, hosted by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, with the proceeds given to sustain the costume institute of the museum. Past shows have included Chanel, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, China: Through the Looking Glass, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, and Yves Saint Laurent.
Pro Tip: If you live in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut, or are a student in any of these states, you can pay whatever you like. Otherwise, ticket price is determined based on your age, student status, and museum membership.
2. American Museum Of Natural History
Home of the iconic Hayden Planetarium, the American Museum of Natural History is a museum you could spend an entire day in, and not make a dent. Located on the Upper West Side in front of Central Park, the museum consists of 26 buildings with 45 permanent exhibition halls, plus a research library.
Highlights include the dinosaur gallery, the Hall of North American Mammals, where you can see grizzly bears, antelope, and Alaskan moose, the Fossil Hall, Gems and Minerals, Ocean Life, the Hall of North American Forests, and the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians, where you can see species of poison dart frogs, Komodo dragon, and American alligators. Anthropology exhibits include Northwest Coast Indians and Other Indians, African Peoples, and Asian Peoples.
An enormous 87-foot-diameter sphere, situated inside a glass cube, houses the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the newest addition to the Hayden Planetarium. Worlds Beyond Earth is the permanent show that takes viewers on an immersive and astonishing journey into the solar system.
Pro Tip: The American Museum of Natural History is terrific for the grandchildren.
3. The Museum Of The City Of New York
On the prestigious upper 5th Avenue by Central Park, The Museum of the City of New York is a celebration of what makes New York City great.
The current permanent exhibition is New York at Its Core, the first show to cover the full history of New York. The museum’s handsome building of red brick with marble trim and white pillars was built in 1930 in the neo-Georgian style.
The extensive collection of paintings, drawings, and Currier and Ives prints, focuses on 19th- and 20th-century items. There’s also a major representation of the decorative arts including furniture, plus costumes and antique toys. A theater collection has artifacts from the golden era of Broadway, and there’s also a formidable photo collection with vintage photos of New York by photographers Berenice Abbot, Percy Byron, and film director Stanley Kubrick.
4. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
If you walk 14 blocks south from the City of New York Museum on 5th Avenue, you will arrive at the eponymous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The museum is a double treat, as you get to experience unique architecture and a terrific art collection.
Opened to the public in 1959, the controversial design of the museum, a white spiral structure by Frank Lloyd Wright, was equally loved and hated by architecture critics.
Solomon R. Guggenheim, who lived in New York City, was an heir to a wealthy mining family and collected old masters paintings from the late 1800s until 1926 when he met artist Hilla von Rebay, who introduced him the new, abstract painters of Europe including Wassily Kandinsky. Guggenheim was so smitten with the abstract style, he altered his art collecting focus and, in 1937, established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, a tribute to his modern art collection.
Today the museum still displays works from Guggenheim’s collection and remains at the forefront of exhibiting modern art. Recent exhibits have included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Gerhard Richter.
5. The Jewish Museum
The first-ever museum dedicated to preserving Jewish art and culture, The Jewish Museum opened in 1947 on Upper 5th Avenue in a former mansion of a Jewish family.
The museum collection includes paintings, artifacts, sculptures, Jewish ceremonial art, and Judaica.
The museum houses works by Jewish artists including Richard Avedon, Marc Chagall, Alfred Stieglitz, James Tissot, Eva Hesse, Deborah Kass, and Man Ray.
In 2019, the Jewish Museum presented a show about composer and singer Leonard Cohen.
6. The Brooklyn Museum
One of the best-kept museum secrets of New York is The Brooklyn Museum. On par with the Metropolitan in terms of size and collections, but not as well known, the Brooklyn Museum is next to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and Prospect Park.
Similar in scope to the Metropolitan, the museum has permanent departments of Egyptian, Classical, African, and Ancient Near Eastern Art, plus an American painting collection with works mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There’s also a feminist art collection along with a European collection ranging from the Renaissance to the late 20th century. It includes important works from the Netherlands, France, and Italy.
Remember to visit the Memorial Sculpture Garden, which has a collection of sculptures made from architectural artifacts.
7. The Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA)
The leading museum in the world for modern and contemporary art, The Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) should be tops on your list to visit. MoMA recently had a major makeover, expanding its public space by 25 percent, which means it now displays more of its 200,000+ plus works. Modern design is an integral part of the museum, so the latest renovation was designed by the cutting-edge architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which has designed other art museums including The Broad in Los Angeles, Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and The Shed at the Hudson Yards, also in New York City.
MoMA has a broad expanse of artistic mediums including painting, drawing, architecture, design, photography, illustrated books, prints, films, and electronic art. Seminal works include Starry Night by Van Gogh, Water Lilies by Monet, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, Gold Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol, self-portraits by Frida Kahlo, and One: Number 31, 1950 by Jackson Pollock.
The museum has three food venues, all with different price points. For a snack or casual meal, Cafe 2 offers Italian specialties served at community tables, The Terrace Cafe offers a full menu and has an outdoor terrace, and The Modern is a gourmet restaurant that has won numerous food awards.
Make sure to visit the sculpture garden with works by Matisse and Picasso.
8. The Frick
The Frick is one of the most beloved museums in New York and a favorite with locals. Housed in the former home of industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick on Upper 5th Avenue, it is one of the last and finest examples of the mansions from the Gilded Age of New York in the early 20th century. Frick collected highly regarded fine art, including works of Bellini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Goya, and Whistler, and the museum continues to acquire new works.
The Frick Art Reference Library founded by Frick’s daughter Helen in 1920 is still one of the most significant research institutions for art history and collecting.
Pro Tip: The Frick is currently closed for a major renovation and will reopen in early 2021.
9. The Whitney Museum Of American Art
The Whitney Museum of American Art is specifically devoted to mostly living American artists of the 20th century. Cindy Sherman, Jasper Johns, Glenn Ligon, Jay DeFeo, and Paul Thek are artists whose careers were launched by The Whitney, where they were given their first museum exhibitions.
The Whitney recently moved from Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side to the West Village, near the High Line walkway. The striking new building, christened in 2015, was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, who also designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
Other artists shown at The Whitney include Bruce Nauman, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frank Stella, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, and Keith Haring.
Admission to New York Museums can be expensive, with $25 as the going rate at the Metropolitan and MoMA. Check their websites to see if they offer senior rates, and/or reduced rates on certain days or times of the month. To avoid daytime crowds, most museums have late-night schedules.
The “Museum Mile” is a stretch of museums located on Upper 5th Avenue from 110th Street to 82nd Street and includes El Museo del Barrio, Museum of the City of New York, The Jewish Museum, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Frick Collection, The Metropolitan, and the Goethe House German Cultural Center.
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