As much as I hate the cold, I love spending the winter in New York City. Once the holiday rush has died down, the streets are a little less crowded and life returns to its normal pace. Last winter I spent much of my time in my apartment; I was still adjusting to the 9 to 5 life and was constantly tired from the chill and gray skies. This year, I told myself I’d spend my Saturdays in the city enjoying New York as much as possible (Sunday afternoons will forever be reserved for reading a good book and napping).
Having had a particularly miserable winter so far, I’ve spent most of my Saturdays inside one of NYC’s incredible museums. When I first moved here, I frequented The Met and the Museum of Natural History, but I’ve since discovered some not-so-hidden gems in the NYC museum scene. I wanted to share some of the most underrated NYC museums with you, because there are so many more museums to visit other than the MoMA, Guggenheim, Met, and Natural History museum (though all of those are absolutely spectacular!).
The NYC museums listed below are loved by New Yorkers, but I rarely hear out of towners planning trips to any of these. These would be especially great to visit if you’ve been to NYC before and have seen the more popular museums already.
The Morgan Library & Museum
The Morgan Library & Museum was originally the private library of Pierpont Morgan (yes, the JP Morgan). The library is exactly what I imagine the Beast’s library in Beauty and the Beast would look like. There are hundreds of books on the shelves, and the museum displays a number of them on a rotating basis. Down the hall from the library is Morgan’s private office, which is another walk back through time.
My favorite part of the museum is the “Treasures From the Vault” collection, which displays various artifacts and manuscripts from Morgan’s vast collection. When I visited, a number of priceless medieval manuscripts were on display, but the display changes every few months.
When you visit, I highly recommend taking a tour with one of the museum docents. It lasts about 90 minutes, but you learn so much history about Morgan and his life that you’d otherwise miss.
In the early 1970s, #JudyChicago began to experiment with china painting, finding the medium technically fascinating and too often dismissed for its association with women’s work. Each of the plates in #TheDinnerParty is an opportunity for Chicago to highlight the discipline, through her artistic vision, and to incorporate a metaphor for women’s historical struggles through her central core imagery. Growing from two to three-dimensional across The Dinner Party, the plates create a narrative of increasing visibility through history. #dinnerpartyroots⠀
The Brooklyn Museum is the second largest museum in NYC (in terms of physical size), and while it’s loved by many a New Yorker I’ve never once had an out of town friend itching to visit this museum. The Brooklyn Museum reminds me of The Met in many ways; it’s an art museum, but its exhibits showcase a little bit of everything—ancient Egyptian mummies, more traditional oil paintings from Europe, various textiles, etc.
My personal favorite exhibit is called “The Dinner Party,” which is a piece of feminist art from the 1970s. In a nutshell, it’s set up as a huge banquet that represents 39 influential women throughout history. If you need a good dose of girl power, definitely check out this exhibit.
Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney is best visited with a friend, in my opinion. On display is a range of 20th century and contemporary artwork. To be perfectly honest, some of it goes way over my head, but that’s why I like having a friend along to chat about the artwork with. The Whitney is near the High Line, which you can take to Chelsea Market if you’re in need of a snack after your museum visit.
The Met Cloisters
The Met Museum is one of the main tourist attractions in the city, but did you know that the Met has multiple branches? The Cloisters is one of my all-time favorite spots in New York. Tucked away in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan, The Cloisters are entirely dedicated to medieval art. Don’t worry, there’s much more to this museum than a handful of boring “Madonna and Child” paintings. At the center of the museum is the garden from an actual cloister. Entire rooms from chapels and medieval houses were salvaged and reconstructed here. It’s quite the trek to get to The Cloisters, but they’re 100% worth it.
The Frick Collection
If medieval sculptures and feminist artwork aren’t your thing, check out The Frick Collection. The Frick is known for its collection of Old Master paintings (think da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc) and its European sculptures and decorative arts. The museum is in Henry Frick’s mansion, which is a masterpiece in itself. It feels more like you’re walking through someone’s (very swanky) home, rather than a museum.
The next time you’re in the Big Apple, definitely check out one of these underrated NYC museums. If you don’t want to dedicate half your day to a museum, The Cloisters or the Morgan Library are the way to go.
Tell me: What’s your favorite museum you’ve ever been to? Mine’s probably the Victoria & Albert in London, but The Louvre is a close second!
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