The Art-Loving Visitor’s Guide to Midtown Manhattan Museums

As author Thomas Merton wrote, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” In Midtown Manhattan, art lovers can step from the busy sidewalks into several world-class art museums, taking a refreshing dip into an unparalleled variety of masterpieces gathered from across the ages, across genres and around the world.

It’ll take you at least two days to do justice to these museums’ offerings, so plan on booking a room in one of Midtown’s classic hotels, such as the Westgate New York Grand Central. Learn more about the hotel here.

Westgate Exterior

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

Exterior of MOMA in Manhattan
The reflective exterior architecture allows for some great photos 😉

MOMA is one of the world’s premier museums. It showcases the best of contemporary art alongside early modern masterpieces. It was founded in 1929, so its idea of modern ranges rather far back. Initially, it depended on donations of art, as it had no budget for acquisitions, but today MOMA is home to an enormous number of famous works of art. These include many of the paintings you see in art history books, such as Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Monet’s giant water lilies, Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup can, and Dali’s The Persistence of Mystery, with its melting watches.

At MOMA, you’ll find permanent and temporary art collections from all over the world, including movies. Prepare to be wowed by works by Gaugin, Cezanne, Picasso, Klimt, Magritte, Matisse and Kahlo. Pollock, Hopper, Johns and Mondrian are also well-represented.

Interior of MOMA in Manhattan
MOMA interior

The Museum of Modern Art prides itself on its creative spirit, and the atmosphere tends to be fun rather than staid. There’s even a creativity lab, where you can drop in to relax, make art, and hang out with artists who will answer your questions about art and the museum.

You can take a self-guided audio tour and make the rounds in a couple of hours, but really you are going to want to plan on spending the day here. There’s excellent food available in the on-site restaurant. MOMA is located at 11 West 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)

Exterior of MAD in Manhattan
MAD exterior

The Museum of Arts and Design is relatively small, occupying five floors in the 2 Columbus Circle building, which is bordered by 58th and 59th Streets, Broadway and Eighth Avenue. The sixth floor has studios of working artists with whom you can visit. If you start there, and take the stairs down, you won’t miss the interesting displays from the permanent collection that are tucked into the stairwells.

Punk graphics exhibit at MAD
Punk graphics exhibit at MAD

The MAD aesthetic pushes the boundaries between art and craft, featuring mostly contemporary artisanal work, embracing multimedia, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, beads and much more. Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery has 45 interactive drawers of jewelry featuring more than 200 works by 85 artists. Materials include the traditional silver and gold, but also rubber bands and animal intestines. Also in the permanent collection, Judith Schaechter’s kaleidoscopic piece, Seeing Is Believing, presents 200 geometric images rendered in stained glass.

The MAD is usually uncrowded and relaxing to visit. For an awe-inspiring view of Central Park along with great food, visit The Robert restaurant on the ninth floor. For a nearby hotel, check out this Hotel Website.

Morgan Library and Museum

Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan
Morgan Library and Museum

The Morgan began life as financier Pierpont Morgan’s private library, built from 1902 to 1906. In 1924, his son gifted the library to the public. It’s a huge, impressive and elegant room filled from floor to 30-foot ceiling with three levels of bookcases bursting with literary treasures.

The museum has as its heart the historic Morgan mansion. Many of the museum’s rooms are ornate, with ceiling frescoes and mosaic inlays, and are filled with priceless antiques.

Morgan was a collector focusing on American and European objects, including illuminated manuscripts and drawings and prints by old masters. The museum has increased its holdings over the years, and the Morgan now has a vast world-class collection of rare books, Americana, ancient works of art, music manuscripts, early books, including children’s books, and more.

Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan
Plus the architecture, cannot overlook that

You can enjoy sketches by A. A. Milne and Beatrix Potter, musical scores by Mozart, and first editions and interesting exhibits honoring famous authors from Poe to Tolkien, and from Whitman to Sendak. The Morgan Library and Museum is located at 225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street.

It’s a boon to the art lover that these three great art museums are located within walking distance of one another in Midtown Manhattan. Very few places in the world offer anything approaching this array of ancient and modern masterpieces.

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