Summer is here, and for those feeling like an art adventure, the Big Apple offers an incredible smorgasbord of opportunities — and not just at the famous institutions like the MoMA and the Met that grab the majority of headlines, either. Here, we round up 30 of our staff’s favorite off-the-beaten-track art spaces, from the five boroughs and beyond, to guide your explorations.
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The Center for Book Arts
28 West 27th Street, Midtown
Dedicated to creating and exhibiting books as art objects, the Center for Book Arts offers classes for everyone from the novice bookmaker to the professional. Topics covered include traditional and contemporary bookmaking, papermaking, letterpress printing, and more. With a collection of over 2,000 books and works on paper, the Center also presents four exhibitions throughout the year and serves as a resource for those interested in preserving and expanding the study of book arts.
613 West 155th Street, Washington Heights
The Hispanic Society’s 1908 Beaux-Arts building and spacious, city block-sized grounds may seem out of place among the numerous bodegas, barber shops, and Latin American restaurants that dot 155th street. Devoted to promoting Hispanic culture for over a century, the Society’s permanent collection, which holds major works by Goya and El Greco, is well worth a visit.
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
26 Wooster Street, Soho
The first museum in the world dedicated to LGBTQ art and artists, the space belongs to the non-profit Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, founded as a safe-haven for the artworks and outlet for artists of the queer community. The first exhibitions began in the loft home of Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman in 1969, and grew into the non-profit space and organization in the wake of AIDS crisis of the 1908s. In 2012, the “Pop-up Museum of Queer History,” a traveling community exhibition, garnered the space attention, though the 6,000 artworks in its permanent collection, online database, and multiple project spaces make it a center for research and history as well as a venue for contemporary exhibitions.
Cortlandt Alley between Franklin and White Streets, Tribeca
New York City’s smallest museum is housed inside a former freight elevator in Tribeca’s Cortlandt Alley, where it opens up to visitors on weekends (though only four can fit at once) and can be peered into during the rest of the week. Inside, walls lined with shelves present eclectic collections of unusual objects: the current season’s array includes artist Tom Sachs’s set of Mars rocks, Peter Allen’s bilious trove of fake vomit, Jim Walrod’s canny collection of New York City tip jars, and Tucker Viemeister’s totally tubular assortment of international toothpaste tubes.
Museum of Chinese in the Americas
215 Centre Street, Soho
Started as the small grassroots community organization the “Chinatown History Project,” whose mission was to document and preserve the evolving history of Chinese communities in the United States, MOCA has evolved into a full-scale museum with rotating and permanent historical and arts-based exhibitions, as well as a rich archive of oral histories, educational programs, and community-based projects.
Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space
155 Avenue C, East Village
The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) doesn’t simply document the history of grassroots movements in New York City’s East Village, it actually takes visitors on tours of the neighborhood’s most famous community gardens, squats, and sites of social change. The free museum gives insight into the 40-year history of East Village community activism that transformed abandoned buildings and lots into living spaces and gardens through pioneering urban sustainable practices.
The Society of Illustrators/MoCCA AM
128 East 63rd Street
Housed in a 19th-century former carriage house that once belonged to William P. Read, the personal secretary of J.P. Morgan, the Society of Illustrators was founded by nine artists and one businessman to “promote generally the art of illustration and to hold exhibitions from time to time.” Today, its mission has expanded, and the institution plays host to a collection of some 2,000 artworks in its Museum of American Illustration. Recent exhibits have ranged from a celebration of “Where the Wild Things Are” author and artist Maurice Sendak to a tribute to MAD magazine's editor and cartoonist Harvey Kurztman. The Society is also home to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, the host of the exciting annual MoCCA Arts Fest, which brings together graphic novelists and independent comics artists from around the world.
10 Greene Street, Soho
Stepping into this second-floor loft space is like traveling back in time to the Soho of the 1970s, and Third Streaming’s solid exhibition program is on the mark, with past solo shows devoted to Mary Ellen Carroll, Alvin Baltrop, and Saya Woolfalk, among others. The current exhibition showcases the urban botany and glacial explorations of Matt Jensen.
1680 Lexington Avenue, East Harlem
This venerable artist workshop, event space, and gallery has been serving the local community since 1970 when it was founded by Marcos Dimas, Carlos Osorio, and Rafael Tufiño (among others), for the residents of El Barrio. The space regularly mounts exhibitions and is currently showing “BORICUA IMPRINT,” a poster exhibition to mark the 27th anniversary of Comité Noviembre, an organization that celebrates Puerto Rican contributions to the city.
195 Morgan Avenue, Bushwick
Though it hosts exhibitions, screenings, talks, drink-and-draw parties, and more, this Brooklyn institution — which recently expanded to Philadelphia — is best known for its classes, which cover every conceivable medium from metallurgy and woodworking to painting, screenprinting, collage, and anatomical drawing, as well as food, fashion, jewelry, programming, and most other topics imaginable.
370 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg
Though only founded in 2002, and at its present location since 2006, City Reliquary does in fact feel like a relic in the best of ways, with its fascinating array of Old New York artifacts, from the old timey subway turnstile through which visitors enter the permanent collection, to its vast assortment of vintage Statue of Liberty figures. A special exhibitions room hosts rotating displays like the current show “Greetings from the City of New York,” which features vintage souvenir postcards from the era when personal messages had to be written on the cards’ front sides.
DUMBO Arts Center
111 Front Street, Suite 212, DUMBO
One of the pillars of the DUMBO art scene since its founding in 1997, this non-profit specializes in inventive thematic group shows and experimental presentations by emerging artists and art groups. Last fall it hosted a Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts residency and a video art show, while musical scores throughout the month of May accompanied its most recent exhibition, a historical survey of the forgotten Futurist filmmaker Eugen Schüfftan.
51 Bergen Street, Cobble Hill
Occupying a repurposed 30,000-square-foot former factory (which once manufactured the invisible dog leash toy, hence the name) in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, the Invisible Dog Art Center has been operating as a catchall interdisciplinary arts center since late 2009. The center regularly hosts events including art exhibitions, dance, theater, and music performances, film screenings, readings, and lectures. Their next event is a crowd-sourced dance/installation/multimedia project called “The People to Come,” which runs June 22- 25.
Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA)
80 Hanson Place, Fort Greene
Originally conceived as a graduate thesis project at NYU, Laurie Angela Cumbo first founded her space dedicated to political and social issues surrounding the contemporary African diaspora in the first floor of a Bed-Stuy brownstone in 1999. Since then, it has expanded to a 17,000-square-foot space in BAM’s John E. Davis Arts Building building, with exhibitions and programming on subjects ranging from the rise of hip-hop to the convergence of art and science in African-based visual systems, to those featuring emerging Afro-diaspora artists both in the U.S. and abroad. (The museum has also newly launched a series of international satellite exhibitions, with its first currently on view in Lagos, Nigeria.)
159 Pioneer Street, Red Hook
Though it has changed its name (from the cheeky but less PC “Intercourse”) and weathered the worst of Hurricane Sandy, Dustin Yellin’s vast new non-profit space in a Civil War-era warehouse remains a little-known treasure, with its expansive exhibition space, rich curriculum of classes, and lovely sculpture garden. Its current show of Ernesto Caivano drawings, collages, and etchings is the year-old space’s strongest to date.
543 Union Street, Gowanus
Since 2005, Proteus Gowanus (named for the Greek sea god) has supported the transformation of its host neighborhood by hosting studios, galleries, research libraries, and exhibition/classroom communities, all within a former box factory. An “interdisciplinary gallery and reading room,” the organization features collaborative projects with other local organizations, seven artists-in-residence, and publications and programming from visiting artists and curators, as well as workshops on topics including diorama-making. Currently on view as part of this year’s war-themed cycle of curating is the show “Battle Ground” (with a concurrent installation at the nearby Dutch farmhouse the Old Stone House), running through June 30.
Secret Project Robot
389 Melrose Street, Bushwick
One of the long-running staples of Williamsburg’s earlier DIY alternative art and performance scene, Secret Project Robot’s neon street-art emblazoned Kent Street building served as home base for art collective Monster Island as well as shows and performances for the formerly waterfront-based DIY North Brooklyn art scene for about 13 years; more recently it has moved out to Bushwick, along with many of its artists, and continues to operate as a nonprofit and community organized art space and music venue, with regular gallery exhibitions running alongside shows by Brooklyn regulars like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Black Dice. Expect many scruffy hipsters at its local barbecue.
92 Plymouth Street, DUMBO
Housed in a former boiler and situated near the waterfront in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, Smack Mellon’s large exhibition space is one of Brooklyn’s most picturesque — though the basement studios that house its very competitive residency program were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, and have only just been rebuilt. It hosts ambitious solo shows that take advantage of the venue’s plentiful space, along with group exhibitions helmed by independent curators — most recently, the politically charged “Hollow Center.”
39-31 29th Street, Long Island City, Queens
Since its inception in Williamsburg circa 1994, this roving artist collective has made the move to Queens, most recently taking up residency in a converted factory near Queens Plaza where it mounts often-irreverent thematic exhibitions that transform the gallery into an immersive environment — most recently “Kitty City,” a sprawling urban installation for cats — and solo presentations, many of them by current and former resident artists. One of the most sought-after residencies in the city, Flux Factory provides studio space to some 30 artists every year.
The Living Museum
Creedmore Psychiatric Center, Building 75, 80-45 Winchester Boulevard, Queens Village
One of the more unique Outsider Art museums in the country might be this small, independent venture located on the grounds of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, with its massive array of artwork created by hospital patients, who, whether in inpatient or outpatient care, also have access to its studios to create works ranging from cartoons to abstract paintings to massive sculptures. Founded by Dr. Janos Marten and Polish artist Bolek Greczynki in 1983, the Living Museum showcases work from patients with prior formal training in the arts to others who have since built practicing art careers; the workspace is seen not as a form of “patient therapy” but as a means of encouraging inherent creative talents, and the artworks — which range from the more known aesthetics of folk art to contemporary political murals to nudes, ink works, and landscapes — have been the subject of a documentary and rave reviews.
9-01 33rd Road, Long Island City
Founded by Isamu Noguchi, this Long Island City museum was one of the first art venues in the neighborhood. Located in a converted industrial warehouse, the Noguchi offers the opportunity to see works by the famed 20th-century Japanese-American artist and landscape architect within a building and gardens also designed by him. Summer programming includes First Friday events, as well as regularly scheduled concerts in the garden.
Socrates Sculpture Park
36-01 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City
Situated on the East River waterfront with a stunning view over toward Manhattan — a spectacular backdrop for its summer outdoor movie series — Socrates hosts a year-round roster of outdoor exhibitions, often in partnership with major institutions and arts groups, from El Museo del Barrio to Cleopatra’s and Norte Maar. Its current show, “do it (outside),” is the handiwork of compulsive curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, and features works by Yoko Ono, Ai Weiwei, Nancy Spero, John Baldessari, Suzanne Lacy, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Martha Rosler, Bruce Nauman, Tracey Emin, and many, many more.
West 249th Street and Independence Avenue
Wave Hill's gardens and galleries are a small oasis in the Bronx, evoking the past glamour of the estate that houses it while offering a contemporary urban respite. Panoramic views of the Hudson and Palisades are everywhere throughout the sprawling landscape and two historical homes on the property. Summer programming at Wave Hill includes art workshops, performance, garden tours, and more.
Bronx River Art Center
2064 Boston Road, South Bronx
Bronx River Art Center (BRAC), a multi-arts non-profit organization, has been doing its part, amidst a borough-wide revitalization, to bring arts programming to the South Bronx, all with a community-centric vibe. Gabriela Salazar’s public art installation “For Closure” (2012), erected a house of cards made of locally salvaged doors, referencing the housing crisis while providing a suitable backdrop for cultural activities. For its latest series of exhibitions, “Process and Progress,” artists and architects have been invited to create works that engage systems of urban development. While its 18,000-square-foot building is undergoing a $7-million renovation, BRAC offers classes in drawing and painting, animation, and photography at its temporarily location at 2064 Boston Road.
Alice Austen House
2 Hylan Boulevard
The Gothic cottage of prolific documentary photographer Alice Austen (1866-1952), the first woman on Staten Island to own a car, is now a museum that promotes the work of the Victorian rebel. The Alice Austen House, which boasts a scenic view of lower Manhattan, has a collection of over 8,000 of her images and also organizes selected photography exhibitions by other artists.
The New York Chinese Scholar's Garden at Snug Harbor
1000 Richmond Terrace
A fast and free ferry ride from lower Manhattan, the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden is a peaceful oasis nestled within the larger Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden on Staten Island. The design of the garden, which opened in 1999, is based on a famous one in Suzhuo, China that was built in the 18th century during the Qing dynasty. Comprised of eight pavilions, this lush New York spot includes a bamboo forest path, waterfalls, a Koi fish pond, and Chinese calligraphy. The garden includes unique rock structures, called “scholar’s rocks” resembling the same types of mountains that inspired the poetry and art of China’s monks and scholars. A team of 40 Chinese artists spent a year in China designing the garden before the components were actually built at Snug Harbor.
Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art
338 Lighthouse Avenue
Another hidden Asian art gem tucked away on Staten Island, the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art presents the art and culture of Tibet and the Himalayas. It was established in 1945, having been founded by American collector and Tibetan art expert Jacques Marchais, who designed the rustic complex of fieldstone buildings to resemble a small Tibetan mountain monastery. The buildings were the first Himalayan style architecture to be built in the U.S. and the Marchais museum was also the first museum in the world solely devoted to Tibetan art. The land it sits on includes a fish pond, meditation cells and many of Marchais’s original plantings.
Staten Island Museum
75 Stuyvesant Place
Founded in 1881, New York City’s only general interest museum is also the only spot you’re going to see a show with the intriguing title “They’re Baaack!!!: Return of the 17-Year Cicadas,” culled from the museum’s interdisciplinary collections and including cicada specimens, cicada-inspired sculptures, new cartoons by Taylor Jones, and a time-lapse video of emerging cicadas, among other attractions. There are plenty of other gems here too from its wide-ranging collection of regional art — historic portraits of prominent Staten Islanders and landscapes by local artists — to Asian art, antiquities, and decorative art. (On the museum’s main website page (under Contact Us) check out the downloadable “Ferry Rider’s Guide” PDF, which provides a rundown of the ferry’s illustrious history and maps the sites you should look out for while en route to your destination.)
On every Saturday, Sunday, and holiday Monday through September 29, ferry riders can head to Governor’s Island for a wide variety of art-related activities: “Rising Tide,” an exhibition featuring artists affected by Hurricane Sandy presented by the Sculptors Guild; “WWII & NYC: Photography and Propaganda,” a show put together by the New York Historical Society; FIGMENT’s interactive Sculpture Garden; artist-designed Mini Golf Course and City of Dreams Pavilion; LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island; and Waveforms 2013 sound art installations.
Frieze isn’t the only noteworthy art event on Randall’s Island. From June to November, the island plays host to FLOW, an art exhibition on the island’s southern shoreline organized by the Randall’s Island Park Alliance, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and Made Event. This year’s iteration, FLOW.13, features five site-specific installations created by participants in the Bronx Museum’s emerging artists program, Artists in the Marketplace (AIM).