See Art for Free in NYC

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Ah New York City… Maybe you watched Friends and are enamored with brick apartments in Greenwich Village or you dig all those sad-boy-in-New-York songwriters from the 60s. But unlike Paris or San Francisco, it’s almost impossible to romanticize this place. It’s loud, dirty, smelly, so so crowded, public transit is terrible but driving is worse, and they charge you $15 just for walking out of your apartment. The real reason it’s such a center for art and culture is that everybody is trying to escape their reality every waking second. It’d be nice to bliss out in museums every day, but you’re trying to be able to eat dinner too and your annoying friends with finance jobs are like “hey meet us at this bar” and the Coors Lights are $10 and you don’t even want to ask what their cocktails cost because you will probably have an aneurysm. DON’T STRESS THOUGH. There are a bunch of ways to get your art fix and your cultured excuse for not meeting finance bros at a gucci-bar at the same time without spending a cent.


Method 1: Catching museums on their free days

The Met (Cloisters too) is pay what you want, at least until March 1, 2018, but you probably didn’t know that the Brooklyn Museum, Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, American Folk Art Museum, and the International Print Center are all holding on to their pricing. These are all good places to go and it’s not just an “art fix,” they offer the whole freakin' cannoli of curated experiences. MoMA’s main space is even free from 4-8pm on friday nights.


But perhaps you’re thinking public institutions, folk art, prints...I feel poor all day, let me get at those exclusive spots. I want brutalist architecture and art financed by estates and trusts, donated by the artist. No worries friend, we got you. The not-as publicly funded museums also usually have times where the broke among us can rub shoulders with their art (but don’t actually rub shoulders, they’ll kick you out.)


Glenn Ligon Rückenfigur and Toyin Ojih Odutola To Wander Determined exhibition view at Whitney Museum of American Art


The entire Whitney is free on Friday nights from 7-9:30 pm! But, if your friday evening is occupied by a Tinder date that doesn’t like art (red flag, leave now) you can scope the first floor gallery on the “inland” side of the foyer, it’s open without admission all the time. Currently the first floor is showing Toyin Ojih Odutola’s work on a mythical Nigerian family of explorers, which is gorgeous and playful and f*cking amazing, it’s up through the end of February so you, know, roll through if you out here. They also hung Glenn Ligon’s Rückenfigur in the front atrium behind the ticket desk. It’s a little awkward standing there in the line but not in line and all “no I don’t want to buy a ticket I’m busy looking at art,” but hey, it’s New York, people are pretty weird and just really trying to do their #thing and there’s way too much going on for anybody to spend more than a second worrying about why you’re standing still and deep in thought.

The Noguchi Museum is mostly about Isamu Noguchi’s work (the guy behind those globulous paper lanterns that Ikea is furiously copying all the time), but they also show rotating exhibitions. It’s in Queens and is free on the first Friday of every month, which is admittedly not often, but the stars might align for you and ‘guchi to have your moment in the, well probably not sun because it’s light for all of like 2 hours in the winter time.

Is it spring yet? via Bukkit


Dia:Chelsea, the urban campus of the notorious institution behind Spiral Jetty and Lightning Field is free on Fridays from 3 pm to 6pm and also any time they’re showing new commissions or projects. They always have a rotating exhibition that features one or two artists in line with the land art/Dia aesthetic. The spaces are located at 541 and 545 West 22nd Street. Dia also maintains an outdoor installation on the same street misleadingly named 7000 Oaks which is open all the time and consists of 23 trees (only three of which are Oaks) and 23 approximately 4 ft. tall basalt columns. They say that it is about environmental renewal, I’m just glad there are some trees around.

Maybe you’re in the mood to hang with the William Blake, Turner, Goya crowd. That’s cool, I mean, I feel you, contemporary art is so commodified, but also so heavy handed, it’s nice to settle down with some old-school beauty. The Frick Collection is free Wednesday afternoons from 2pm to 6pm and also the first Friday evening of the month from 6pm to 9pm. They’re a little stingy with their free hours but hey, if you’re enjoying an after-lunch walk in Central Park and art sounds better than going back to work then this is your spot.

Method 2: Galleries


Gallery-goers on the outside vs. gallery goers on the inside via Bukkit


I know that galleries are scary. They barely mark the doors and keep them closed and everybody around looks like they’re going to a funeral and probably know a lot about art. But it’s totally fine, you’ll be fine! All the people look scary because they’re awkward and weird just like us. And, importantly all of these places are totally free, so completely free. And there are a LOT of them. Galleries are an important part of getting the most out of the art world. Think of it like a game: the rich people put the art around as a way to get out of taxes, you have to take it, it’s rightfully yours! Figuratively speaking, don’t actually steal the art. A good way of doing galleries is to just walk up and down the gallery neighborhoods and pop in to the most obscure looking doors you see. If it isn’t a gallery just ask is Richard Serra in today? No? Ok I’ll try again tomorrow. BYE! 

Chelsea is a mainstay of the free-art-viewer’s arsenal. The mythological gay-friendly neighborhood turned high end art enclave. The gallery zone is in the high teens/low twenties between 10th and 11th Ave (in Manhattan Siri! Man! Hat! Tan!) Some classics are Gagosian (555 W 24th), David Zwirner (525 W 19th), Paula Cooper (534 W 21st), and Cheim & Read (547 W 25th).


The Lower East Side is kind of like what Chelsea was (maybe) like 20 years ago. It’s a little bit grimy still, graffiti on the walls, potholes in the roads, no Google employees in sight. Home to 1st wave gentrifiers, Chinese language signs, a skatepark that Barbara Kruger did an installation in, and galleries! The blocks surrounding Eldridge Street are chock full of white box rooms and contemporary art. These galleries are sometimes cutting edge where you’ll find Gen Z artists and DIY anti-fashion, there are also some big name establishments that show famous people like Alex Katz. Miranda Kuo (136 Eldridge St.) falls in the former category, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (291 Grand St.) in the latter.


Most of the big galleries also have footprints in the Upper East Side (high sixties to high seventies between Park and 5th avenues) or Harlem (Gavin Brown, always being different). Same deal as in the lower Manhattan galleries except more like The Royal Tenenbaums.


The only limit is that the galleries usually close on Mondays and Tuesdays.


Method 3: not a museum or a gallery


New York Earth Room and Broken Kilometer © The Estate of Walter De Maria


Yo, New York is cold af in the winter and sometimes you need a roof and walls, but aren’t trying to buy your 4th coffee of the day. The seemingly ubiquitous Dia Foundation maintains a couple of permanent indoor installations by Walter De Maria for just such moments. One, The New York Earth Room, at 141 Wooster St in Soho, is just a second floor apartment filled with 280,000 lbs of dirt. The other similarly opaque installation, The Broken Kilometer, located at 363 West Broadway is 500 brass rods arranged carefully (read: OCD) on the floor of an apartment. Both works are eerie, massive counter-weights to what New York City is (whatever it is). Great places to go when you are in the middle of or on the verge of a panic attack. The Earth Room and Broken Kilometer are open from 12 pm-3 pm and then 3:30 pm to 6pm Wednesday through Sunday.


Ok that’s maybe enough art for a week or so. I know if you’re visiting you’re trying to see the Empire State Building and that kind of stuff, but I promise it’s prettier from the outside, and after that much time on subways you’re probably feeling like…I’m just gonna go home…


P.S. NYC also has an unknowable amount of outdoor, public art. Seriously like 840 permanent pieces, plus a gaggle of rotating installations, the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, and the High Line’s rotating crop of sculpture and installations. But, it’s too deep in the winter to be getting excited about outdoor art. We’ll be back with a post for warm plein air art frolicking when the sun starts hanging around for longer than like 3 hours a day.

By John Cappetta



  1. “Visit.” Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  2. “Visit: Walter De Maria, The Broken Kilometer.” Dia Art Foundation, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  3. “Visit: Walter De Maria: New York Earth Room,” Dia Art Foundation, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  4. “Visit: Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks.” Dia Art Foundation, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  5. “Visit: Dia:Chelsea.” Dia Art Foundation, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  6. “Toyin Ojih Odutola: To Wander Determined (Oct 20, 2017 – Feb 25, 2018).” Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  7. “Plan Your Visit: Admission.” MoMA, 2017. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  8. Staff. “Free NYC Museums.” NYC The Official Guide, 2018. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  9. “Hours & Admission.” The Noguchi Museum. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  10. “Glenn Ligon: Rückenfigur (2009).” Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  11. “Admission.” The Frick Collection, 2018. Accessed January 25, 2018.
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John Cappetta


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