NYC Explorer: Art Museums 101

We’re continuing our tour of New York City with a quick introduction of The Big Apple’s best art museums. We’ll then dive deeper into each museums unique collections in upcoming posts.

I have always had a love affair with art. I grew up spending free time exploring the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh starting at the Monet paintings for hours. I have an art history background and plan mini-trips centered around exploring art museums throughout the US.

New York is home to some of the finest collections of art in the world, with a recent layoff I decided to enjoy my gap time into between jobs exploring NYC’s renowned art museums with my mom.

Since I was unsure when I might return to NYC, I tired to dedicate as much of the trip to touring galleries and seeing as much of the art as I could in one trip.

A few tips:

  • The MET and other NYC art museums have vast collections and it can be overwhelming – especially if it is your first time visiting. The MET is the second largest art museum in the world (behind The Louvre) and covers 5000 years of art.
    • I recommend that you go on the art museum website before your visit and research the collection and make a list of the artists/artworks you want to see.
    • It is important to see the museum’s signature paintings like Starry Night at the MOMA, but also be open to exploring lesser known artists or periods of art history you are not familiar with.
    • Most of the museums off free audio tours (via your cell phone) that help navigate the collections. You can also look into a curated tour by the museum or an independent guide.
    • The MET volunteers were especially helpful in giving advice about ‘must-see’ exhibits and how to navigate the maze of galleries
  • Strive to see everything, but it is okay if you don’t. Sometimes it is better to focus on a few wings like Impressionism or Egyptian art and really take time to learn and appreciate that period and art history.
  • Immerse yourself in the stories behind the art…many artworks have fascinating backgrounds related to the artist or the subject matter. Madame X by John Singer Sargeant at The Met was a notorious painting when it debuted in Paris…The Woman in Gold by Klimt at The Neue Gallerie was stolen by Nazis and turned into a movie with Helen Mirren.
    • Art is fun – Art history has more drama than HBO’s Game of Thrones – enjoy stepping into the art and the history behind it
  • It is okay if every piece of art doesn’t speak to you. You can appreciate the talent, but it is okay if you prefer Impressionism to Modern Art. The key is to be willing to open your mind to appreciate the art, even if you wind up deciding you don’t identify with it.
  • If you only have time for one or two museums I recommend asking yourself:
    • What am I most interested in seeing (artistic styles, period, architecture) and use that to help make your decision.
    • If I had to choose one museum I’d recommend The Met since it covers so much art history, but it is also overwhelming. The Guggenheim, Neue, Whitney or MOMA are also perfect for one day of art in Manhattan.

Planning your visit:

  • I recommend purchasing your tickets online in advance. Several museums have timed entry.
  • On a tight budget – many of the major museums offer free days/nights – call in advance/check their website for more info
  • If there is a particular painting you want to see I recommend calling to make sure it is on view. I wanted to see the Botticellis at The Met but found out that wing was closed. Not a huge deal, but depending on the work it doesn’t hurt to call.

NYC Art Museums 101:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Located on 5th avenue on the edge of Central Park, The Met is a premier art museum in the world. The museum took us two days to navigate, but if you are short on time you can see a few highlights in a half day.

  • Quick Facts:
    • Largest art museum in the US
    • 4th largest art museum in the world!
    • 2 million pieces of art in the permanent collection
    • Over 5000 years of history across 17 curatorial departments
  • Audio Tour:
  • This audio guide walks you through 100 Met Highlights
  • Museum Highlights:
    • Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emmaneul Leutze
    • Thousands of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman Art
    • Bridge over a Pond of Waterlilies by Monet
    • Self Portrait with a Straw Hat by Van Gogh
    • One of the latest Impressionism collections in the world
    • 5 paintings by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer (there are only 34 verified Vermeer paintings left in the world)
    • Madame X – by John Singer Sargeant
  • Website
Tiffany Window at The Met

The Museum of Modern Art

  • Quick Facts: founded by three extraordinary women in the 20th century to house modern art – The MOMA is a must see in NYC
  • Museum Highlights:
    • Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
    • The Dance by Henri Matisse
    • Waterlilies by Monet
    • Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso
    • Persistence of Memory by Dali
  • Website

The Frick Museum of Art

  • Quick Facts: This magnificent collection of mostly European art includes pieces by Jan Van Eyck (see below), Anthony Van Dyck, Fragonard, Vermeer and more…founded by industry magnate William Frick in the early 1900s, the collection is usually housed in the historic Frick Mansion. However until later 2024, highlights from The Frick are being shown in the temporary museum home – Frick on Madison, while the mansion is renovated. This was one of my favorite museums in NYC
  • Museum Highlights
    • Van Eyck of Mother Mary was my highlight
    • Van Dyck portrait collection
    • Rembrandt’s self-portrait and etchings
    • collection of top English portraitists including works by Romney, Gainsborough, Lawrence, Reynolds…
    • Whistler paintings
    • Monet, Degas and Renoir works
    • Vermeer paintings (temporarily on loan for Vermeer exhibit in The Hague (Europe) – 2023)
  • Website


  • Quick Facts: The Guggenheim Museum in NY is one of the most iconic works of architectural art in the United States. The unusual design is out of this world and yet highly functional with a easy to access ramp that scales to the glass ceiling. The main gallery (along the ramp) showcases exhibits, while side galleries feature the permanent collection.
  • Museum Highlights:
    • Works by Pablo Picasso, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Pissaro, Braque, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Manet and more
  • Website

The Whitney

  • Quick Facts: Founded by art connoisseur and sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney…focuses on 20th and 21st century American art.
  • Museum Highlights: works by Hopper, Warhol, Calder, Bellows and more
  • Website

The Neue Gallerie

  • Quick Facts: Philanthropist and businessman Ronald S. Lauder and art dealer and collector Serge Sabarsky (1912–1996) co-founded Neue Galerie New York. The museum opened in November 2001.
  • Museum Highlights
    • Amazing collection of Klimts and other Austrian and German master artists from the 20th century.
    • Home to the ‘Woman in Gold’ – Adele Bloch-Bauer I painting by Gustav Klimt
  • Website
Photo-opt copy of Woman in Gold at The Neue (photography not allowed in the galleries)

Outside of Manhattan:

Brooklyn Museum of Art:

  • Quick facts: Over 560,000 square feet is second largest museum in NYC; the building is a work of art and the collection rivals The MET
  • Website

Bronx Museum of Art:

Another fine collection of art from masters to modern

I look forward to continuing our tour of NYC in the coming weeks, including visits to these museums.

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Purpose of American Nomad: To share my love of travel, history and museums with others. Follow American Nomad on facebook here.

About: American Nomad is written by Adele Lassiter, a travel enthusiast with a background in history, art and technology sales. In addition to running American Nomad, Adele is an artist and published author of cozy romances. Check out her cozy romance novel, Solitude Lake on Amazon (Adele Darcy)

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