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If business travel brings you to New York City, you might lament that, with all those meetings lined up, you have so little time to soak up the city’s cultural riches. Maybe you end up with an hour here or there, but it seems like too narrow of a window to tackle, say, the two million pieces of art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Art and culture lovers, don’t despair: New York has plenty of smaller-scale museums that can be enjoyed in an hour or two. At these five favorites, you can sneak in a hit of history or fine art in that time slot you’ve got to kill during lunch or before heading to the airport or train station. And just because they can be experienced quickly doesn’t mean these are “McMuseums”—the exhibits are top-notch and not soon forgotten.
1. Neue Galerie
This elegant gallery housed in an Upper East Side Fifth Avenue mansion (the former home of society dame Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, no less) showcases excellent collections of early 20th century Austrian and German art. The richly paneled rooms are divided by theme, from fin de siècle Viennese paintings to German Bauhaus movements. Brush up on your Klimt (the stunning Adele Bloch-Bauer I is here), Kandinsky, and Kokoschka, and then indulge in coffee and pastry in Café Sabarsky (helmed by Kurt Gutenbrunner of Wallsé and Blaue Gans fame), which evokes the heady turn-of-the-century Vienna coffeehouse scene.
2. New Museum
Avant-garde architecture enthusiasts go weak in the knees for the design of the New Museum, a seven-story, precarious-looking stack of aluminum mesh boxes by Pritzker Prize winners Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. Inside, the exhibitions—which focus on the works of obscure contemporary artists from around the world—are just as cutting-edge as this downtown building itself. Save time by downloading a free audio guide for the current exhibition from the website before you visit, and don’t miss the views from the rooftop terrace and the fabulous museum store.
3. Rubin Museum
Once a high temple to retail, the former premises of Barneys in Chelsea are now home to the Rubin Museum of Art’s calming series of reconstructed Buddhist shrines. It’s one of the finest collections of Himalayan art in the Western world, including masterpieces from surrounding regions in India, China, and Mongolia. The heart of the collection is the delicate scroll paintings (thangkas), but you’ll also get to glimpse sculptures, spiritual objects, textiles, and illuminated manuscripts ranging from present day to as far back as the second century.
4. Tenement Museum
Soak up some immigrant history at this experiential museum housed in a meticulously restored 1863 tenement building on the Lower East Side. Book one of the lively (one- to two-hour) tours peppered with real-life anecdotes from the building’s former residents. Each tour focuses on a single family or group of families from the period: Options range from “Hard Times” (the story of Jewish and Irish Catholic families surviving the panic of 1873 and the Great Depression) to “Shop Life” (an overview of the family-run shops that once filled the lower level of the tenement).
5. The Frick Collection
Steel magnate Henry Clay Frick built his ornate Upper East Side Beaux-Arts mansion to accommodate his exquisite collection of paintings and objets d’art, which he ultimately donated (along with the mansion) to the public. Visitors can wander rooms that are much the same as they were when he lived here, drinking in not only the art, but also the lifestyle of a wealthy industrialist. Highlights of the collection include European paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, El Greco, and Vermeer, rare Limoges enamels, and the world’s finest collection of small bronzes.