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How to visit world art exhibitions in New York for free or for pennies


Alina Prikhodko

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If you think art in New York is getting more and more expensive, that's because it is. Luckily for New Yorkers and many visitors, the city has plenty of free or more affordable ways to experience the arts, as reported by Gothamist.

Last year, the Whitney, Guggenheim and MoMA raised prices by 20%, and now all of these museums charge $30 for admission. The Metropolitan Museum of Art may have started this trend in 2022 when it raised prices for out-of-towners, although admission for city residents remains pay-what-you-wish.

“A lot of people don't know if they'll like art or not,” says Ellen Swiskowski, founder of the free app See Saw, which collects information about what is currently showing in art galleries. “It makes it difficult to just be curious and give chance when you have high stakes in the form of a high price of admission.”

There are many free or more affordable ways to experience the arts in the city.

Exhibitions in galleries

Swiskowski's See Saw app is already 10 years old. This is one of the most popular tools for finding art exhibitions. She calls it “the free app to see art for free.”

See Saw has a list of almost every gallery in the city, as well as real-time information and photos about current exhibitions. You can browse listings by area or pinpoint your location on a map and nearby galleries will appear on your screen. If something catches your attention, you can add it to your own list or to a custom map.

On the subject: An exhibition of treasures from the most expensive shipwreck in the world has opened in New York.

Gagosian Galleries, David Zwirner and Paula Cooper, often exhibit the work of their superstars, including Cecily Brown, Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon and others.

“Galleries are an incredible resource that is virtually invisible to most people passing by,” says Swiskowski. – Many of them are on the third floor of a random building, and you should know about their existence. We want to provide this information.”

Because the galleries are free, she said, it's easier for people to fit art into their day in bite-sized chunks. “You go to MoMA or the Whitney and pay your $30 bucks, so you want to have the best experience possible,” she said. “You can spend three hours there and by the end you will be exhausted, overstimulated, tired and hungry.”

auction houses

Few New Yorkers seem to know that preview shows at all major auction houses are free and open to the public. Sotheby's, Christie's, Bonhams и Phillips are the largest auction houses in the city, and on their websites you can find detailed information and calendars of upcoming exhibitions.

Auction previews provide an opportunity to see art that may never see the light of day again as it moves among private holdings amassed by high-profile collectors on the international art market.

Free previews are often held a week before the auction, and anyone can stop by during business hours and view the offerings in person, without an appointment. Occasionally, different rules may apply to items offered for auction, so it's worth checking the auction house's website before you go.

Public art

New York City is home to a wealth of public art, much of it on permanent display in little-known “galleries” including the subways and city hospitals. Both systems have amassed significant art collections over the years, including works by Yayoi Kusama, Keith Haring, Helen Frankenthaler, Andy Warhol and hundreds of other artists.

To find art in the subway, visit MTA Arts & Design. Favorites include William Wegman's dog mosaics at the 23rd Street F/M station and the flip-book-like "mastranssiscope" that appears in the windows of moving B/Q trains in Brooklyn.

On the subject: Personal experience: I visited all the museums in New York, and here are the 9 best of them

The city also boasts rotating exhibitions sponsored by organizations such as Public Art Foundation, and are often installed in Lincoln Center or Madison Square Park.

Rockefeller Center hosts public art projects, and recently featured Melissa Joseph, whose work has been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum. The projects are generally free to walk through, although some exhibitions require advance registration.

Free museum opening hours

Dozens of museums and cultural sites offer regular free visiting hours or “pay what you wish” admission. Like large museums such as MoMA, Whitney и Guggenheim, offer such free hours, as well as smaller establishments such as Morgan library и Noguchi Museum.

Many establishments also regularly offer free late nights, such as the popular program First Saturdays Brooklyn Museum. Hours and days of these events may vary, and some require reservations, so check the venue's official website first.

If you're a New Yorker and don't want to wait for rare open hours, many establishments offer free admission on an individual schedule using NYC Culture Pass and a free card IDNYC.


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