When it comes to culture like museum exhibits, New York is hard to beat. From art to history to design, the city’s institutions are packed with exhibits that provoke, intrigue, and entertain. Right now you can see the original animals that inspired Winnie the Pooh, a 20-carat blue diamond, the religious side of Andy Warhol's art, and much more. Here are our picks for the can’t-miss museum exhibits of the season.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Library
A lock of Edgar Allan Poe’s hair, Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, Malcolm X’s briefcase, the real-life Winnie-the-Pooh: the New York Public Library holds a lot more than books. For the first time ever you can explore a selection of the 56 million items in the collection with the opening of the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures.
Museum Exhibits NYC: The Met
One of the city’s own great treasures is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On display now is A New Look at Old Masters, which explores The Met’s collection of European painting and sculpture. Deep dives into still life and genre painting in the 16th and 17th centuries are joined by the museum’s unsurpassed collection of Rococo master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. A large gallery displays portraiture in the 17th century French Grand Siècle, juxtaposing outstanding paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck with Charles Le Brun’s monumental family portrait of the banker Everhard Jabach.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Photography
Photograph (Self-Portrait with Hand), c. 1925-1929 © Estate of László Moholy-Nagy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) was best known as a painter and a Bauhaus leader. He was also a photography pioneer, as seen in the exhibition Light Play. A tightly edited show gathers work ranging from early experiments with photomontage to photograms (images made without a camera), personal travel shots, films, and late-career color photos. The curators worked closely with the artist’s estate to design staging that aligns with Moholy-Nagy’s experimental approach to lighting and form. There’s plenty more to check out inside this New York newcomer that offers a mix of world-class photography, eclectic programming, elevated dining, and surprising new points of view. You’ll find the space as compelling as the work, inside Fotografiska, a New York newcomer offering a mix of world-class photography, eclectic programming, elevated dining, and surprising new perspectives. Far from a stuffy institution, the attitude at Fotografiska is “Have fun, stay late, get deep, spill your drink.” Moholy-Nagy on display through June 5th.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987). Raphael Madonna-$6.99, 1985. Acrylic and screenprint on linen, 156 1/4. 116 in. (396.9 . 294.6 cm). The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., 1998.1.358. © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Brooklyn has become a tourist destination to rival Manhattan, complete with its own world-class institution: the Brooklyn Museum. Current exhibition Andy Warhol: Revelation delves into the artist’s Byzantine Catholic upbringing in Pittsburgh and his lifelong relationship with his faith. More than 100 objects, including many rare and newly discovered, ponder Renaissance imagery, immigrant traditions and rituals, depictions of Christ, and the Catholic body and queer desire. Through June 19th, 2022.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Immersive Art
Head to the historic boiler room of Chelsea Market to experience the immersive art space ARTECHOUSE. You’ve never seen art like this before, as room-sized digital projections merge with sound design to create a cinematic experience. Opening this Saturday, May 14th, is Life of a Neuron, which draws on decades of neuroscience research to create a cellular-level journey through the human brain. Come explore the intersections of art and science and discover new layers of a universal human experience—the story of ourselves. The main installation is joined by additional immersive artworks. You can also grab a drink at the newly opened XR Bar.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Eastern Art
Chelsea’s Rubin Museum of Art has a mission of presenting and preserving Himalayan art. You can get an overview in current exhibition Gateway to Himalayan Art, which introduces visitors to the main forms, concepts, meanings, and traditions of Himalayan art in the Rubin collection. The newest addition here is an interactive space, The Mandala Lab, which is oriented around five immersive experiences, drawing on film, scent, sound, and a sculpture that invites collective breathing.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Modern Native American
Umine Dance, 1958. Casein and gouache on paper, mounted to board, 18 x 22 in., Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), a branch of the Smithsonian dedicated to Native American cultures throughout the Americas, stands near the southern tip of Manhattan. On display now is Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe, which highlights the work of Oscar Howe (1915–1983), one of the 20th century’s most innovative Native American painters. The museum is housed in the landmark Beaux Arts U.S. Custom House, completed in 1907.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Natural History
The Okavango Diamond Company.
In addition to the kid catnip of the American Museum of Natural History’s permanent collection (dinosaurs, anyone?), there are tempting temporary shows as well. Celebrating its 23rd year at the museum, The Butterfly Conservatory transforms the coldest day, inviting visitors to mingle with hundreds of fluttering, iridescent butterflies among tropical flowers and lush green vegetation. You can also be among the first people to see “Okavango Blue,” a rare and nearly flawless 20-carat blue diamond. The centerpiece of a new Okavango Blue Diamond exhibition of diamonds from Botswana, it’s on view in the revamped Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems. You can learn more about the region and the science behind diamonds. Or you can just go be dazzled.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
Normally you'd have to travel to Italy to see the frescoes now on view at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. The free show Pompeii in Color: The Life of Roman Painting illuminates a vibrant lost world. Through May 29th.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Guggenheim
Vasily Kandinsky, Dominant Curve (Courbe dominante), April 1936 (detail). Oil on canvas, 129.2 × 194.3 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection 45.989.
Vasily Kandinsky was one of the pioneers of abstraction in western art. The Guggenheim is currently highlighting his work in Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle. The exhibit is mounted in reverse chronological order, starting with late-life paintings and proceeding back in time along the Guggenheim’s spiral. Paintings, watercolors, and woodcuts drawn from the museum’s extensive Kandinsky collection illuminate the journey of an artist looking into the transcendent potential of abstract forms.
Museum Exhibits NYC: New Museum
Artist, author, educator, and organizer Faith Ringgold is one of the most influential cultural figures of her generation, with a career that links the multi-disciplinary practices of the Harlem Renaissance to the political art of young Black artists working today. The New Museum’s exhibition Faith Ringgold: American People brings together over six decades of her work, bearing witness to the complexity of the American experience. Through June 5th, 2022.
Museum Exhibits NYC: The AKC Museum of the Dog
The AKC Museum of the Dog celebrates the role of dogs in society through its collection in Midtown. This Wednesday, March 16th the museum will open a new exhibition, Dogs of War & Peace. The show puts together 10 life-sized, carved-wood allegorical memorials by sculptor James Mellick on display from his “Wounded Warrior Dogs” and “Over the Rainbow Bridge” collections. Celebrating the bond beyond the battlefield, the installation highlights military dogs from WWII to Afghanistan. Sensitive looks at wounded and rehabilitated dogs helps draw attention to the heroism of dogs in the military. While you're there, don't miss the museum’s permanent collection, which includes sculptures, paintings, collars, vests, and photographs, plus engaging digital experiences.
Museum Exhibits NYC: New-York Historical
Black Dolls at the New-York Historical Society delves into handmade cloth dolls made primarily by African American women between 1850 and 1940. Through these humble yet potent objects, Black Dolls reveals difficult truths about American history and invites visitors to engage in the urgent national conversation around the legacy of slavery and race.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Iran
Drawing from the collection of financier and philanthropist Mohammed Afkhami, Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians—The Mohammed Afkhami Collection presents works by 23 artists from Iran and its diaspora that probe themes like sociopolitical conflict, gender, and spirituality. It can be found at the Asia Society and Museum on the Upper East Side.
Museum Exhibits NYC: New York Music
Brad Farwell/Museum of the City of New York.
A little further uptown, The Museum of the City of New York explores the city’s past, celebrates its present, and imagines its future. The ongoing exhibition New York, New Music: 1980–1986 looks at the city’s diverse performers of the early ‘80s—from Run DMC to the Talking Heads, and Madonna to John Zorn—as a lens to focus on the broader cultural scene, including media outlets, venues, record labels, fashion, and visual arts that cross-pollinated in the city in those years.
Museum Exhibits NYC: The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is one of the most-watched shows in cable history, entering its final season this fall. Fans will not want to miss the exhibition Living with The Walking Dead, opening Saturday, June 25th at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. Delve into the origins, production, fandom, and impact of the show through production materials like original costumes and props, concept art, storyboards, scripts, and of course plenty of the prosthetic makeup used to transform cast members into the walking dead.
Museum Exhibits NYC: Morgan Museum
Hans Holbein the Younger, Simon George of Cornwall, ca. 1535–40. Mixed technique on panel, diam: 31 cm (12 3/16 in.) Frankfurt am Main, Städel Museum, 1065.
The Morgan Library & Museum has opened the first major U.S. exhibition dedicated to Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/98–1543). Holbein: Capturing Character spans Holbein’s entire career and highlights the artist’s work as a designer of prints, printed books, personal devices (emblems accompanied by mottos), and jewels. Works by Holbein’s illustrious contemporaries, such as Jan Gossaert (ca. 1478–1532) and Quentin Metsys (1466–1530), further highlight the visual splendor of the art and culture of the time.
Beyond Exhibitions: An Overview of NYC Museums
NYC Museums: Can't Miss Major Museums
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is fresh off a lengthy expansion and renovation project. A must-see for even the most casual art fan, six levels here cover an immense range of contemporary and modern art. Works include prints and illustrated books, architecture, design and drawing, paintings and sculpture, and photography and video installations. World-famous art by Warhol, van Gogh, Monet, Kahlo, and Picasso can all be found, joined by intriguing temporary exhibitions.
The Met Museum displays some of the greatest cultural treasures in the world, representing every category of art from just about every country from every time period spanning the Stone Age to the present. The museum houses some of the finest American art in the world, as well as an impressive collection of European, Greco-Roman, and Ancient Egyptian art. You can lose yourself for hours here; if you need to recharge, The Temple of Dendur somehow manages to be simultaneously epic and chill.
Photo: D. Finnin, courtesy American Museum of Natural History.
Holding down a large patch of land just off Central Park West, the American Museum of Natural History was founded in 1869 and still carries on its mission of discovering and interpreting the natural world. Families love exploring the acres of exhibits here, in addition to the futuristic sphere of The Hayden Planetarium. One of the most popular destinations in the museum is the fourth floor, where you’ll find 100 dinosaur specimens, a small sample of the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in the world.
The Guggenheim Museum is Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of modern architecture. Completed in 1959 (after 16 years of construction), the museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art, including works by artists such as Kandinsky, Picasso, and Pollock, plus intriguing special exhibitions. The building itself belongs in a museum—one of the world’s most famous structures, spiraling upward in sinuous curves.
NYC Museums: New York Stories
The Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum brings to life the stories of the 7,000 immigrants who lived in a humble apartment building at 97 Orchard Street. Visitors can take building tours of the recreated homes of former residents, dating from the 1860s to the 1980s, as well as walking tours of the neighborhood they lived in. Now open again seven days a week.
MCNY exterior, Filip Wolak.
The Museum of the City of New York explores the city’s past, celebrates its present, and imagines its future. The engaging exhibitions here offer New Yorkers and visitors from around the world insight into the city’s distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation.
Merchants House Parlor by Denis Vlasov. Photo courtesy Merchant's House Museum.
Built in 1832, the East Village’s Merchant’s House was home to a prosperous family and their Irish servants for almost a century. Miraculously, the house still retains the family’s original furnishings and personal possessions. Stop by for a rare and intimate glimpse of domestic life in New York City circa 1835 to 1865.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum features two core exhibitions at the foundation of the former World Trade Center complex. A memorial exhibition—In Memoriam—pays tribute to the 2,983 men, women and children killed on 9/11 and in the 1993 WTC bombing. A historical exhibition tells the story of what happened on 9/11 at the three attack sites in the U.S. and around the world. It also explores what led up to the terror strikes, the immediate aftermath, and the ways 9/11 continues to shape our world. On the plaza outside you’ll encounter two reflecting pools, featuring North America’s largest man-made waterfalls.
The New York Transit Museum is housed in an authentic 1936 subway station in Downtown Brooklyn, spanning an entire city block. Head underground to learn about the workers who helped build NYC’s transit tunnels over 100 years ago, get hands-on with some of the city’s oldest subway cars and buses, and discover the always-changing technology and design that keeps the MTA going year after year. This family-friendly museum also showcases bus designs, transit maps, rotating exhibitions, and much more.
Photo by Rick Naramore.
Step inside the landmark Eldridge Street Synagogue and step back in time, as you learn about the Jewish immigrants who found religious freedom in their new country, the opulent sacred space they built in 1887, and the 20th-century restoration that saved this decaying masterpiece. You can experience the magic on a docent-led or self-guided tour.
NYC Museums: Only in New York
Enterprise photo by Svetlana Jovanovic.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is again welcoming visitors to this National Historic Landmark, which served tours of duty in World War II and the Vietnam War. You can explore the entire historic aircraft collection on the aircraft carrier’s flight deck and in the hangar deck. The Intrepid Museum also includes the Space Shuttle Pavilion, home to Enterprise, the world’s first space shuttle, which paved the way for America’s successful space shuttle program. All this year, the museum is celebrating its remarkable journey from its 1982 founding to becoming part of the fabric of New York City and a world-class cultural institution. The commemoration will feature new exhibits, a preview of future restoration of historic spaces, and special virtual and in-person programming. While celebrating its past and present, the Museum will also take an aspirational look forward at its future. This month, the temporary exhibition On the Mend: Restoring Intrepid’s Sick Bay opens, examining the history of medical care on the ship while also illuminating the museum’s current efforts to restore the ship’s sick bay and open it to visitors.
A quick walk from Grand Central, The Morgan Library & Museum began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan. Today, the Morgan serves as a museum, research library, musical venue, architectural landmark, and historic site. Housing works by Rembrandt, Picasso, Dickens, and Hemingway, as well as Gutenberg Bibles, the Morgan is in a class of its own.
National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. Photo by David Sundberg (2016).
Sitting at the foot of the Wiechquaekeck Trail, an old Algonquin trade route (you might know it better as Broadway), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is where the many nations of America come together in the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.
NYC Museums: Where the Locals Go
The Museum of Jewish Heritage–A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. The third largest Holocaust museum in the world, the museum anchors the southernmost tip of Manhattan and completes the cultural and educational landscape it shares with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The International Center of Photography (ICP) is the world’s leading institution dedicated to photography and visual culture, holding down a new space on the Lower East Side. Timed entry tickets will let you access current exhibitions A Trillion Sunsets: A Century of Image Overload and Actual Size! Photography at Life Scale.
Uptown, the New-York Historical Society offers four centuries of history and art, plus the only Children’s History Museum in the area. Don’t miss the transformed fourth floor, where a special permanent gallery holds a detailed re-creation of the White House Oval Office and the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps shows 100 illuminated examples within a dramatically lit, jewel-like space.
Brooklyn has become a tourist destination to rival Manhattan, complete with its own world-class institution: the Brooklyn Museum. Just 20 minutes from Manhattan you’ll find a priceless collection that will surprise you with its range, from ancient Egypt to European masterpieces to a feast of decorative art. There’s even a section dedicated to feminist art, including the iconic ‘70s installation The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago.
You can learn how the mediums of film and television evolved at the newly remade Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Antique cameras and TVs are joined by all kinds of interactive exhibitions, in addition to The Jim Henson Exhibition, which shows how the master puppeteer brought worlds like the Muppets and Sesame Street into being.
Fotografiska New York is a museum experience for the modern world. It’s a destination to discover world-class photography, eclectic programming, and surprising new perspectives. Spanning photographic genres, Fotografiska presents six floors of exhibitions. It’s open late every day, with a vibrant atmosphere unlike any other in the city. There’s music on every floor and drinks for guests to enjoy throughout the museum. The philosophy here is “Have fun. Stay late. Get deep. Spill your drink.“