New York City Art & Photography Gallery Scene
Talking about the art scene in New York is like talking about the food in Paris or the pubs in London. The number of unique galleries, showrooms, boutiques, and creative venues of all sorts is staggering—and trivial compared to the number of artists and other talented creators who flock to the city and have been doing so for decades.
You could spend months slowly making your way across the five boroughs and down the long list of different art spaces contained in the city. If you’re just visiting, however, or if you live there and simply don’t have the time to scour every alley and avenue, some amount of guidance is necessary to know where to begin and what to prioritize. What the top art galleries in New York are will depend on who you ask, but clusters of more prestigious and renowned spaces can be found in Chelsea, the Lower East Side, 57th Street, the Upper East Side, Soho, and Dumbo.
Chelsea District Art Galleries
Chelsea is a collection of quaint housing blocks and industrial warehouses on the Hudson River between the Meatpacking District and Hudson Yards. Once a center for volatile chemical production during the Civil War, today it features the High Line, an old elevated rail-line-turned-park, and some of the most prestigious galleries in the city.
Here can be found such venues as the 303, a contemporary gallery with deep roots featuring artists such as Tim Gardner and Doug Aitken and photography by Andreas Gursky. The Matthew Marks gallery contains works by established painters like Jasper Johns and Ellsworth Kelly alongside more recent mixed-media pieces by Robert Gober, Trisha Donnelley, and others. The Aperture Gallery, run by the same foundation which produces the popular photo magazine, hosts a variety of multi-photographer exhibitions with themes from African American culture to food to fashion. The Gagosian is a must-see, housing works by everyone from Henri Moore to Sally Mann and Man Ray to Andy Warhol. Alongside these big names, new and emerging talents are always being added to the roster as well.
Lower East Side Art & Photography Galleries
The Lower East Side was once a crowded sea of tenements stretching out into the East River towards the Brooklyn Navy Yard. After World War II, however, it became a haven for radical political exponents and the beat poet circle. During the following decades, it developed into a trendy spot for artists and creative venues of all sorts.
The Lower East Side is home to 47 Canal, a space for creators from around the world to display unique mixed-media sculptural and wall art. Included among the resident artists are Shimon Minamikawa, Antoine Catala, and Josh Kline. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise showcases bizarre and eye-catching abstract and surrealist works by people like Franz Ackermann, Bjarne Melgaard, and Silke Otto-Knapp. Sargent’s Daughters is a gallery dedicated entirely to the work of a small cadre of female contemporary artists Victoria Dugger, Emily Furr, Wendy Red Star, Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya, Sarah Slappey, and Brandi Twilley. Miguel Abreu is another smaller gallery featuring immersive and performance-based pieces by the likes of Milton Resnick, Tishan Hsu, Jean-Marie Straub, and others.
57th Street Art Gallery Scene
One of the broad east-west thoroughfares in Midtown Manhattan, 57th street has an artistic heritage going back farther than any of the areas discussed so far. Originally a site of various museums and recording studios in the 1890s, it’s now one of the major centers for galleries and showrooms in the city.
Along this historic avenue, the Pace Gallery has exhibited works by some of the most famous artists and photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Maya Lin, Richard Avedon, Henry Callahan, Mark Rothko, and Robert Frank. The Francis M. Naumann gallery is host to a variety of surrealist works by Marcel Duchamp, Philip Hass, and pieces by more contemporary experimentalists like Charles Juhàsz Alvarado and Isabelle Waldberg. The Marlborough Gallery is another modern/contemporary space housing pieces by Brassaï, Grisha Bruskin, and the eminent fantasy landscapist Tomás Sánchez. The Marian Goodman gallery contains works in a variety of mediums from Richard Deacons minimalist sculpture to the otherworldly photographic compositions of Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Upper East Side Art Galleries
Formerly a refuge for New York’s industrial and aristocratic elite, the Upper East Side was once home to the likes of the Rockafellers, the Roosevelts, and the Kennedys. It has since become one of NYC’s premier art districts, home to the Guggenheim, the Met, and a number of renowned gallery spaces.
With a lineup rivalling that of the museums in the area, the Acquavella displays works by such giants as Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yves Tanguy, Cézanne, Matisse, Magritte, Monet, Picasso, and dozens more. The Michael Werner Gallery houses pieces by contemporary painters including Kai Althoff, Florian Krewer, James Lee Byars, and Raphaela Simon. Gladstone 64 is a former elite residence converted into a stark white creative space filled with everything from exotic surreal sculpture to poignant photographic works. Gagosian also maintains a secondary gallery in Dumbo, with more works by past and contemporary masters.
Soho Photography Galleries & Art
Like many of the neighborhoods in New York, Soho has an industrial background which later served as the foundation of a thriving art scene. Once a center for textile and clothing production, its famous cast-iron buildings were later used as studios and flats by Andy Warhol and his cadre of pop and outsider artists. This heritage is still visible today in the array of unique galleries inhabiting the ornamented metallic structures.
This neighborhood is home to the Team Gallery, with a variety of recent works by photographers like Carina Brandes and Ryan McGinley and painters such as Andreas Schulze and Suzanne McClelland. The Martin Lawrence family of galleries maintains a space in Soho with pieces from their extensive collection by Dalí, Rembrandt, Miro, and others. Peter Freeman Inc. specializes in pop art and minimalism with works by Warhol, Ad Reinhardt, Gerhard Richter, and more. The Swiss Institute hosts contemporary exhibitions with complex and innovative themes with upcoming shows including Tobias Spichtig: “Good OK Great Fantastic Perfect Grand Thank You” and Rosemary Mayer: “Ways of Attaching.”
Dumbo Art Scene
Dumbo has been known by many different names over the years, with the acronym standing for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass only taking hold around the year 2000. Located in Brooklyn, across the East River from the Lower East Side, its artistic history began with the entry of artists following the deindustrialization of the greater New York area. Since the foundation of the Dumbo Arts Center (DAC) by Joy Glidden, it has become yet another nexus of creative expression and a popular site for new and unique galleries and installations.
Among the galleries in Dumbo, Art In General is a small venue dedicated to lesser-known artists since 1981, its spaces graced by bold and experimental works by artists including Elizabeth Peyton, Tirkrit Tiravanija, and Glenn Ligon. A.I.R., like Sargent’s Daughters, is a collection of works by female artists working in various media. Their collection includes works by Joan Snitzer, Bonam Kim, Yvette Drury Dubinsky, and many others. The Klompching Gallery contains experimental photographic works by artists pushing the conceptual and physical boundaries of the medium—people like Diane Meyer, Lynn Silverman, and Krista Svalbonas. United Photo Industries was a more classical counterpart to the Klompching, but has sadly closed due to the challenges of the Pandemic.
This is but a small cross-section of the gallery scene in New York, offering just a glimpse of the variety of excellent art to be found here. Seeing all the creative spaces New York has to offer might be impossible, but immersion and inspiration are easy to come by. Even if you’re just passing through for a day, it’s well worth taking a slight detour to one or several of these areas, and chances are you’ll want to come back again and again.