5 Tips To Get The Most From NYC Museums

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Every Friday afternoon, I walk by the MOMA to see a huge line snaking around the building of what appears to be (mostly European) tourists waiting to get in for Free Friday afternoons.  This got me thinking…when I was in Paris earlier this summer, the museum wasn’t dominated just by Americans…in fact, it seemed that a good portion of the patrons were French.  Posing the question:

Are we as New Yorkers essentially too busy to explore the wealth of museums in our own backyard?

I like to think that, career driven as most New Yorkers are, people still take (a little) time to enjoy things that interest and inspire them.  And maybe the idea of navigating busy museums full of tourists during a few free hours just doesn’t interest some?  So I went digging for ways in which we, as New Yorkers, can get more out of our museum-going experience, without feeling drained and depleted afterwards.

1. Instead of making the rounds, focus on one piece of art that really inspires you.

In the NY Times article “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum”, it states: “When you go to the library,” said James O. Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, “you don’t walk along the shelves looking at the spines of the books and on your way out tweet to your friends, ‘I read 100 books today!’”.  Indeed, instead of perusing art in quantity, focus on really taking in one piece that speaks to you…taking the time to really look at it, study it, learn the history of it, and become somewhat of an expert on that particular piece.

2. Curate your museum experience to your interests.

If you are really into a particular subject, say fashion or music or dogs, why not focus your visit on JUST those pieces of art that align?  Museums are filled with passionate educators and volunteers at the Help Desks who would be more than happy to point you in the right direction of pieces that correspond with your passion, and you can spend your precious time in front of those works of art rather than being overwhelmed with an entire museum.

3. Take a FREE tour.

Yes, yes, I know I’m always encouraging you guys to jump on a tour.  But really…so much fascinating information, guys!  The beautiful thing about most NYC museums is they offer tours to fit your personal style…from free docent led tours focusing on a specific theme or exhibit, to audio/cell phone/iPod tours that let you navigate areas of interests solo, there’s plenty of options for every kind of personality.

4. Treat your visit as a “Mall Walk”.

I know some artsy folks are totally shaking their heads at me on this one, but hear me out!  Walking is one form of exercise I get in every single day…and sometimes NYC weather conditions just aren’t agreeable to a long walk in Central Park (rain, sleet, and extreme heat, I’m talking to you!)  Since we don’t have the super-size malls that exist in a lot of suburbs, why not take advantage of the large museums for a power stroll?  You can check ahead of time here to see which museums are free on which days, put on your comfy walking shoes, grab your headphones, and get a nice walk in while still taking in a bit of culture.  Win/win, NYC!

5. Stalk a particular artist’s work, both in and out of the museum.

The great thing about visiting museums in this day in age is you can really educate yourself about the artist of interest ahead of time.  If Andy Warhol is fascinating to you, why not watch one of the many movies/documentaries available about his life on Netflix, check out biographies for free via the public library, do some pre-visit Google searching on him during your lunch break…you get the idea.  Then, by the time you head to see his pieces on display at the museum, you’ll already feel a deeper, more personal connection with the man behind the art…(and can also sound like quite the expert with whoever you may be touring the museum with!)

Would love to know…what are tips/tricks you use when visiting museums?  Share below!

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16 Comments

  • lisa thomson says:

    This is so helpful, Jess. It’s overwhelming for the average tourist (like me) especially on our first visit. I went to MOMA and loved it the one and only visit to NYC! You’ve broken it down in a great way.

  • Agness says:

    I like exploring museums from time to time – not too much though so these tips would be highly appreciated!

  • Tracy Kaler says:

    This is a brilliant article! Love it. And every point is true. The mall walk idea is clever and every New Yorker should try it. Culture + exercise = win win! I also like the idea of focusing on what interests you. Not every gallery in every museum is for every person. Art is so subjective. Thank you for writing this post. :)

    • Used York City says:

      Thanks so much, Tracy! It’s so helpful to focus on the elements of museums that are of interest to you, otherwise it can seem like a daunting task!

  • I definitely agree with focusing on one piece of art as it’s difficult to take in too many at one time. Although I would avoid the Mona Lisa at the Louvre unless early in the moring, there are so many people crowded around it!

  • Kemkem says:

    Love this! My freshman college professor got me interested in art at the Isabella Gardner museum, and l am forever grateful. It was just an elective, but it’s what stayed with me all these years. Gainsborough’s Blue Boy was my first love, but once l discovered Monet..My roundabout way of saying l love your 5th point :-) .

    • Used York City says:

      Thanks so much, Kemkem! I agree, it’s so fun to really get into a particular artist or piece and dig around to learn more about it. It certainly makes the experience of finally seeing it live at the museum much more enjoyable!

  • Tamara says:

    I’d always like to believe that if I lived there, I’d be at the museums all the time. They’re so amazing! When I lived in SF, I really didn’t. I feared crowds.
    However here in western MA, I certainly do buy memberships or use library passes and totally live it up.

    • Used York City says:

      Last time I was in MA, we went to the Norman Rockwell Museum which was absolutely lovely! The funny thing: we were traveling with my chihuahua who I brought into the museum in my purse, and they must have seen him because they made me promptly return him to the car! Haha so our visit was cut short, but we did love what we saw!

  • Corinne says:

    I’d love to visit New York! I’d totally be one of those European tourists in line ha.

    Corinne x

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