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New York City Guide

New York Arts & Culture

For the culture buff, it doesn't get any better than this. New and often internationally acclaimed exhibits and plays open every week in New York; first-rate concerts and performances can be heard every night.

Art museums ranging in size from the monumental to the miniscule are one of the city's biggest attractions. Many of the most famous are located along Upper Fifth Avenue. Here, you'll find the granddaddy of them all, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with the famed Frick and Guggenheim, and such lesser-known gems as the Museum of the City of New York and El Museo del Barrio.

Many Midtown museums are clustered on or near 53rd Street, anchored by the soaring, newly renovated Museum of Modern of Art (MoMA). Satellites here include the Museum of Television and Radio and the American Folk Art Museum, two more of the city's fascinating lesser-known gems.

The Guggenheim Museum on Upper Fifth Avenue, with its striking and unusual architecture, showcases modern art.
©2006 NYC & Company
The Guggenheim Museum on Upper Fifth Avenue, with its
striking and unusual architecture, showcases modern art.

New York's most exciting galleries line the long blocks of westernmost Chelsea, in the 20s between Tenth and Twelfth Avenues. Many of the top names in the gallery world are here, along with the Dia Center for the Arts, a longtime bastion for non-traditional art. P.S. 1, New York's biggest center for art on the cutting edge, is in Queens.

The city's foremost performing arts center is Lincoln Center, home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the New York City Ballet. In 2004, the center opened up its first new venue in decades -- Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick Rose Hall. Perched atop the gleaming 21st-century Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, the $128 million Rose Hall complex is the first large facility in the world designed specifically for jazz.

To hear jazz in a more intimate setting, head downtown to Greenwich Village. One must stop is the Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Ave South), which has been presenting world-class musicians for some 70 years.

Times Square is the heart of New York's theater world. In its neon-splashed center presides the Times Square Ticket Center (TKTS) booth, where same-day theater tickets are sold for half price. On the square's side streets are the famous Broadway theaters -- the Shubert, the Belasco, and the like. Most smaller and more experimental Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theaters are located downtown, where you'll also find modern dance and art-house movie theaters.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in New York

On weekends if you possibly can, avoid the Met, Museum of Modern of Art (MoMA), and highly touted exhibits at other major institutions. They are often unbearably crowded then, which can detract greatly from your enjoyment of the show. If you must go on the weekend, try in the morning to avoid the worst of the crowds.

Many major museums, and some smaller ones, are open late one or two evenings a week. The museums often charge no admission during these hours, an enticement that also can draw large crowds, but the crush is usually bearable. The late nights at the Met are especially delightful, as live jazz or classical music quartets play in the Balcony Bar that surrounds the Great Hall. Relax in the company of Rembrandt and Van Gogh while listening to Bach or Monk over drinks, coffee, and light snacks.

When visiting the city's art galleries, remember that most are closed on Sundays and Mondays, and that many don't open until 11 am or noon on other days. Blocks with an especially large number of well-known galleries include 22nd, 25th, 26th and 29th Streets between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues in Chelsea. Publications such as Time Out New York and the New York Press have major gallery listings, but for a more complete list, pick up a copy of the Art Now Gallery Guide, available in galleries, museums, and bookstores.

In the last decade, several brand-new, first-rate, and still relatively unknown art museums have joined the New York scene. All are exquisite jewels. The Neue Gallerie (1048 Fifth Ave, at 86th St) is devoted solely to the fine and decorative arts of early-20th-century Germany and Austria; the Dahesh Museum of Art (580 Madison Ave, between 56th and 57th Sts) focuses on 19th and early 20th-century European academic art; the Rubin Museum of Art (150 W. 17th St, near Seventh Ave) is the only museum in the world dedicated to the art of the Himalayas.

In addition to these new institutions, don't forget the city's many other off-the-beaten-track museums, all of which can often provide a welcome respite from the roar of the city. How about The Museum of Sex, New York City Police Museum, or New York City Fire Museum, anyone? The Museum of Sex (233 Fifth Ave) is tamer than it sounds, but does showcase interesting history and photography exhibits. The New York City Police Museum (100 Old Slip, between South and Water Sts) is a fascinating place filled with contraband weapons, some centuries old. The New York Fire Museum (278 Spring St, between Varick and Hudson Sts) is operated by retired firemen and packed with historic firefighting equipment.

The Times Square Ticket Center (TKTS) booth sells same-day, half-price tickets to both Broadway and Off-Broadway (but not Off-Off Broadway) shows. The Times Square booth opens at 3 pm for evening performances and although the line is often long, it moves quickly. Most of the tickets sold are for orchestra seats (full price $65 to $110), so even at half price, they can cost a pretty penny. A large array of plays is usually offered, and a smaller TKTS booth operates downtown at the South Street Seaport.

Among the best of the Off-Broadway theaters are the Public Theater (425 Lafayette St), best known for its Shakespeare productions and serious drama, and La MaMa E.T.C. (74 A East 4th St), a sprawling, three-theater complex devoted to the avant-garde. The Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce St) is a small appealing venue founded by Edna St. Vincent Millay; P.S. 122 (150 1st Ave) is a mecca for performance art; and the Performing Garage (33 Wooster St) is home to the Wooster Group, one of the country's oldest experimental theater groups.

For independent and foreign films, and retrospectives, the best places in town are the Downtown Film Forum (209 W Hudson St) and Uptown Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater (70 Lincoln Center Plaza). For modern dance troupes, the Joyce Theater (175 8th Ave, Chelsea) is the place to go.

New York is brimming with architectural landmarks, including the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. On the next page, learn about New York's architecture and landmarks.