In the 20th century, New York cemented itself as the home of Abstract Expressionism and subversive Pop Art. These days, the city is a canvas for a new school of artists pushing the boundaries of media and holding social justice as their primary message. 

World-renowned institutions such as MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, and the Guggenheim continue to draw tourists and art aficionados in equal measure, and leading commercial galleries such as Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, Pace, Perrotin and David Zwirner all occupy vast square footage, some with multiple locations.

Manhattan’s art fairs – The Armory Show, Frieze and Independent among them – have become much-anticipated annual fixtures in the art calendar. After a hiatus of in-person art experiences, New York City is ‘back’, and proving that it remains a powerhouse of creativity, originality, commerce, and connection. 

From 5 - 12 May 2022, many of New York’s most exciting and prestigious galleries, auction houses, museums and institutions are banding together in a show of camaraderie to stage the inaugural New York Art Week. Over 20 key organisations co-founded the week to form a collective creative power greater than the sum of its parts, and exhibitions all over the city. Central to the week is the hand-holding of four key art fairs - Independent (which returns to Spring Studios for its 13th edition ), Future Fair, TEFAF and NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance). Elsewhere, the line-up reveals a panoply of women artists on show: Faith Ringgold (New Museum); Suzanne Lacy, Stephanie Dinkins, and Christine Sun Kim (Queens Museum); Deana Lawson (MoMA PS1); Fernanda Laguna (The Drawing Center); Gillian Wearing (Guggenheim Museum); Louise Bourgeois (MoMA). Meanwhile, Christie’s, Philips and Sotheby’s will all host major auctions of important contemporary megawatt works. There’s a lot going on, but fortunately, organisers have created a cohesive interactive map of activities to make it all the more manageable to navigate. 

Best New York art exhibitions: a guide

Exhibition: ‘Cindy Sherman: 1977 – 1982’
Location: Hauser & Wirth 69th Street
Dates: until 29 July 2022 

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still, 1978. © Cindy Sherman Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Cindy Sherman is an artist of many faces. She’s also an artist acknowledged for transforming the role of the camera in art. Beyond a photographer, Sherman’s independent approach saw her take on the part of makeup artist, hairdresser, stylist, and director, as well as casting herself as the protagonist in her ultra-staged narratives. Her first major show at Hauser & Wirth focuses on Sherman’s pivotal early work – including the complete set of 70 Untitled Film Stills, Rear Screen Projections and Centerfolds – which delve into female stereotypes – such as the femme-fatale, career-girl, or housewife – and explore broader notions of identity and representation. Though created more than forty years ago, Sherman’s formative work resonates in contemporary times to uncanny effect. 

Exhibition: Mary Manning: ‘Ambient Music’ 
Location: Canada gallery
Dates: until 21 May 2022

 Joe DeNardo best new york art exhibitions
Mary Manning, Rubric, 2022 (Chromogenic prints, mat board, artist’s frame). Photography: Joe DeNardo

‘Mary makes a point to let me know that whatever we see in the image is correct. And it feels like someone whispering “yes” whenever my eyes land on something,’ writes artist Lydia Okrent in the text that accompanies Mary Manning’s new photography show at Canada gallery. That’s precisely what it feels like to view a Manning photograph; incidental poetic moments teased out of the banal, seemingly spotted and captured with a sixth sense. All the photos in this show have been taken between 2019 and the present day, meaning largely during a moment of great solemnity for the world. And yet, there they are, flickers of nascent optimism; budding flowers, a curious swan diving for snacks. ‘Five of the works have watercolour experiments on the backs of the frames. Each of the works has a painting or some ephemera on or inside of the frame. There’s something thrown into the piece before the frame was drilled shut,’ explains Manning, of the ‘cracker jack surprises’ in the show.

Exhibition: Nari Ward, ‘I’ll Take You There; A Proclamation’
Location: Lehmann Maupin
Dates: 28 April - 4 June 2022

Nari Ward, A Proclamation, 2022, made from shoelaces. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London new york art exhibitions
Nari Ward, A Proclamation, 2022, made from shoelaces. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London

Harlem-dwelling Nari Ward finds inspiration in his surroundings, quite literally. Working with found materials picked up on walks from his neighbourhood, large and small, he repurposes items from traffic cones to shoelaces into sculptures that challenge and question issues of community, gentrification, and economic disparity. Ghostly and indeterminable, one room-sized sculpture, composed of everyday items  - milk crates, ladders, baby strollers, and liquor bottles - is a totem of remembrance to souls lost during the pandemic. The show includes four new text-based works, created by Ward by threading sneaker laces to form the outline of gothic-style letters, including the words ‘If We Must Die’, taken from the 1919 poem by Claude McKay. The laces nod to basketball, who references the sport often played by the African American community in Harlem. A new series of copper panels and a video also feature in the show. 

Exhibition: Whitney Biennial
Location: Whitney Museum of American Art
Dates: until 6 September 2022

Emily Barker, Kitchen, 2019. Collection of the artist; image courtesy the artist and Murmurs, Los Angeles. Photograph by Josh Schaedel bets new york art exhibitions
Emily Barker, Kitchen, 2019. Collection of the artist; image courtesy the artist and Murmurs, Los Angeles. Photograph by Josh Schaedel

The 2022 edition of the Whitney Biennial, the longest-running survey of American art, has been in the works since 2019; before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and before the murder of George Floyd by an on-duty police officer. However, as Nick Compton reports, the politics of this show – explicit and abstracted – are mostly of identity and belonging, featuring the work of 63 deliberately diverse artists ranging from emerging talent (in ample supply) to art icons. Among the artists featured are Ellen Gallagher, Alejandro Morales, Emily Barker, Sable Elyse Smith, Coco Fusco and Charles Ray. 

Exhibition: ‘Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks’
Location: Guggenheim
Dates: Until 13 June 2022

 David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2021
Installation view, ’Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks’, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, until 13 June 2022. Photography: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2021

Masks and role play have been recurring devices the portraiture of British artist Gillian Wearing, for which she’s transformed into the likes of Meret Oppenheim, Eva Hesse, and Andy Warhol in drag. She’s aged herself digitally, ‘worn’ her 17-year-old self, and seen actors ‘wear’ her using face-swapping AI. ‘Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks’ (until 13 June 2022) marks the first retrospective of Wearing’s work in North America. Featuring more than 100 pieces, the show traces the artist’s evolution from early Polaroids to her latest self-portraits, all of which explore identity as performance, with masks cast as both props and metaphors. 

Installation: Rashid Johnson, The Chorus
Location: Metropolitan Opera 
Dates: Until June 2022

The Broken Nine, by Rashid Johnson, 2020, ceramic tile, mirror tile, oyster shells, spray enamel, bronze, oil stick, branded red oak, black soap, wax. Photography: Martin Parsekian

As New York art exhibitions go, they don’t get much more theatrical than Rashid Johnson’s latest work. A two-part installation is not set within a conventional gallery but in the Grand Tier and Dress Circle of the Metropolitan Opera. While the Lincoln Center’s stage is showcasing seat-filing showstoppers such as Puccini’s La Boheme, upstairs, the two large scale mixed-media mosaics will enjoy an audience during the performance interval. Typical of Johnson’s work, which often incorporates found materials from everyday life, the two works – The Broken Nine 2020 and 2021, collectively titled The Chorus – depict nine figures in ceramic tile, mirror, spray enamel, soap and wax. Continuing the line of important artists who have worked with the Metropolitan Opera – including Marc Chagall and David Hockney, and more recently Cecily Brown and George Condo – Johnson brings his contemporary perspective to this storied institution.