Here’s my unpopular opinion: New York’s culture scene shriveled up and died during the pandemic. And it hasn’t fully returned.
Artists abandoned the city — or were forced out — and soaring rents make it tough for most people to afford the city anymore. Cultural mainstays like Broadway shut down for 18 months and are still recovering from the blow. Museums have always had a bit of a struggle, but things are more dire than ever.
And since we’re used to Zoom events, ordering takeout, and streaming content from the comfort of our couches, it’s way more challenging to muster up the energy to do things IRL — like taking a step beyond your neighborhood.
So culture took a hit. Which is tragic because it’s consistently the best part of New York. Now, everyone’s talking about how New York is “back.” But there are way too many lines for mediocre clubs, restaurants, and TikTok-ready “pop-ups” for me to believe it.
And if you let TikTok take you around the city — GenZ, who use the app as their search engine, I’m talking to you — you’d end up at neighborhoods like Dimes Square and pricey restaurants like Boucherie. Is this what’s become of the greatest city in the world?
I grew up in the city, but even I had just about lost hope for the vibes. But, finally, my ears perked up again. I’m hearing whispers that cool culture is coming back. Recent exhibitions and gallery shows almost convince me that NFTs were just a bad dream. Museums feel alive again. And there are a number of Broadway shows that make me want to kick off my sweatpants and spend a night in the theater.
So skip the TikTok version of New York City. Here are the most exciting culture to-dos to add to your NYC itinerary right now:
After visiting her home in CDMX, I have an even greater appreciation of the great Frida Kahlo. This expansive Brooklyn exhibit is a must-see for any Frida fans.
This public works project is a meditative confrontation of this county’s history. Charles Gaines’ massive wooden sculpture of a ship challenges the American mythos by juxtaposing the idea of the Mayflower with evocations of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Make the trip to Governors Island to experience this complex, layered piece.
Discover Peterson’s stunning work at his debut solo exhibition. His imposing, yet intimate, oil paintings make a case for visibility, representing the Black community through diverse, compassionate figurations.
Alex Katz — The Guggenheim
This newly unveiled retrospective at the Guggenheim is at the top of my list. Eight decades of Alex Katz’s work is showcased in the city that inspired much of it — from paintings to oil sketches, collages, drawings, prints, and freestanding “cutout” works.
No museum has such a dynamic collection of American art than the Whitney. So it’s fitting that this exhibition explores the work of American master Edward Hopper through a comprehensive look at his life and work. Discover his early impressions of New York in sketches, prints, and illustrations, and then there are his late paintings, in which the city served as a backdrop and a muse.
Virgil Abloh, “Figures of Speech” — The Brooklyn Museum
Originally developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, this career-spanning, the multidisciplinary exhibit showcases the work of the late visionary artist and designer Virgil Abloh. It includes his designs for Off-Whie and Louis Vuitton, as well as his collaborations with Nike, Takashi Murakami and Arthur Jafa, and photographer Juergen Teller, among others.
Suzan Lori-Parks’ majestic play is back on Broadway two-decades-plus after its 2001 premier. The Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece is a tale of brotherly responsibility — up there with the oldest stories in the book. But as with everything Parks touches, this revival feels fresh, relevant, and startlingly fresh.
The Piano Lesson
This star-studded production of August Wilson’s play, The Piano Lesson, will go down in history. Catch this epic production and its epic cast before the play is turned into an upcoming feature film.
Take Me Out
Close to 2 decades after Richard Greenberg’s 2003 Tony Award-winning run, Take Me Out has returned to Broadway at Second Stage’s up-close-and-personal Helen Hayes Theater. Directed by Scott Ellis, it remains provocative, intelligent, and engaging.