New York City has one of the most vaunted arts and cultural heritages in the world and is just as vibrant today as it ever was. When visiting New York the question is not how to find the arts scene but where to start and indeed how to fit a fraction of it all in? Each of the five boroughs has its own artistic personality and a multitude of scenes and micro-scenes that co-exist from one block to the next.
From Brooklyn to Broadway, the East Village to East Harlem, New York has more talented artists, creators, musicians and performers per square mile than almost anywhere else on the planet, and they’re all doing their very best to get noticed. Dive right in and you won’t be disappointed. However there are still a handful of essential locations you can’t miss if you’re serious about getting arty in the Big Apple.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Absolutely one of the world’s great art museums, you should plan to dedicate at least a full day to the Met no matter how long your visit to NYC is. Located at 1000 5th Avenue, the museum includes large sections on everything from Egyptian art to European sculpture, as well as its large number of featured exhibitions. At the moment these include Epic Abstraction which focuses on abstract expressionism, a style of modern art very much associated with the US and the post-war New York School in particular.
The Museum of Modern Art
Universally shortened to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art is another institution you have to spend at least a day in. It’s the largest repository of modern art in the world and includes a huge collection of significant films in its library alongside exhibits of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture and design. Regular performances in a variety of disciplines are also held here.
Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway
Theater is one of the most important and exciting art forms in New York, and Broadway the ultimate destination for great theater. First and foremost, Broadway is about entertainment. After all, there are musicals, and then there are Broadway musicals. But the 41 theaters also host ground-breaking serious dramas which often start their runs off or off-off Broadway before graduating to the big houses. An example is Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, produced by Louise Gund off-Broadway in 2016 and then on Broadway in 2017, when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Nuyorican Poets Café
Founded in 1973, this spoken word, music and street-level theater hub is multicultural in every sense of the word and is still going from strength to strength. Advance booking is recommended for their twice-weekly poetry slams (on Wednesday and Friday nights), Latin jazz jams and hip-hop open mics, as well as a wide range of booked events. Head on over to 236 East 3rd St to hear poetry as you may never have heard it before.
The Lincoln Center
The Lincoln Center, or to give it its full name, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, covers over 16 acres in central Manhattan. It incorporates the Metropolitan Opera House, the David Geffen Hall (home of the New York Philharmonic), the David H. Koch Theater (home of the New York City Ballet) and over a dozen other performance spaces. Architecturally stunning, the Lincoln Center presents classical concerts, jazz, opera, theater, ballet, film and talks, as well as providing rehearsal spaces and housing the world-renowned Juilliard School for the performing arts.
New York City is home to approximately 1500 different art galleries, so visiting them all could take a lifetime, especially if you keep coming back every time the exhibits change. Some of the best include Gavin Brown’s two Enterprise galleries on the Lower East Side and Harlem, the Anton Kern Gallery in Midtown, and Hauser & Wirth on West 22nd St and East 69th St. Larry Gagosian’s 20,000 square foot gallery in Chelsea could hardly be called small, and the artists hosted there include some very big names including Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. More emerging names can be found at the Half Gallery on the Upper East Side, or at 47 Canal, which is actually now on Grand Street at the intersection of Chinatown and Little Italy.
Of course all this is just scratching the surface of New York’s ever-changing art and performance scene. But these essential destinations will act as a starting point for your own explorations of all this great city has to offer.