Best Places to See African Art in New York City

Okay Space hosts panel discussions and exhibitions around artists of African descent
Okay Space hosts panel discussions and exhibitions around artists of African descent | © Okay Space
Photo of Mazuba Kapambwe
Freelance Writer23 November 2018

The African continent offers extraordinary cultural richness and diversity manifested in its visual art. It employs a variety of mediums, from textile to painting, masks, jewelry, figurines, and more. We profile the top 10 places to see African art right here in New York City.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art main lobby | © Sracer357 / WikiCommons
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s African art section was originally housed in a separate museum called the Museum of Primitive Art; founded by Nelson D. Rockefeller, it operated from 1954–76 with the collection donated to the MET on its closure. The collection includes pieces from all over Africa and include decorative and ceremonial objects from the Court of Benin in Nigeria, sculpture from West and Central Africa, and images of gods, ancestors, and spirits. The MET offers a self tour guide for the Africa section online, which will enrich your experience. New York library card holders can get into the museum for free.

The Neuberger Museum

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The Neuberger Museum of Art holds one of the largest collections of African art in Westchester county, New York | © Kuda Gutu

The Neuberger Museum of Art is located on the campus of Purchase College, Westchester, and has had a permanent collection of African art since 1974. A large donation from the private ownership of art collector Lawrence Gussman was made to the museum in 1999. The collection at the Neuberger museum mostly represents 30 tribes from Central and Southern Africa and includes ceremonial masks, figurines, and objects used in daily life such as spoons and headrests. Entrance is free on the first Saturday of each month.

The Calabar Gallery

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The Calabar Gallery is a new contemporary art gallery in Harlem that acts as a showcase for contemporary African artists and African diaspora artists around the world. The collection is curated by Atim Annette Oton, who selects pieces that illustrate every facet of what it means to be African. Featured artworks reflect the black African culture around the world. Previous exhibitions include Black Follicles Matter curated by Dr. Mireille Liong-A-Kong, and Songs In The Keys of Art: Black Musicians by Jimmy James Greene.

Jack Shainman Gallery

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An art installation at the Jack Shainman Gallery | © Hrag Vartanian / Flickr
The Jack Shainman Gallery is a modern art gallery in Chelsea that showcases the works of contemporary artists from Africa, Asia and North America. African artists whose work has been featured include El Anatsui from Ghana, Malick Sidibe from Mali, Lynette Yiadom- Boakye from Ghana and many more. The current exhibition is by Toyin Ojih Odutola titled When Legends Die (closes October 27) and re-imagines African slaves as royals and aristocrats. The Jack Shainman Gallery has two galleries, one at 513 West 20th Street and another at 524 West 24th Street, as well a school at 25 Broad Street in Kinderhook. Note that the school is only open on Saturdays from 11am to 6pm.

Brooklyn Museum

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Brooklyn Museum | Marcela Flickr
A photo of "Revolutionary", a painting by Wadsworth A. Jarrell on display at the Brooklyn Museum | © Marcela / Flickr
The Brooklyn Museum invites visitors to celebrate African art through experimental installations that showcase the best of the continent’s visual culture and history. Stretching over 2,500 years with masterpieces from ancient Nubia to contemporary works from the 21st century, the Brooklyn Museum exhibits African textiles, masks, sculpture, beadwork and more, symbolizing protection, transition, authority, masquerade and beauty. Popular exhibitions include the ancient Egyptian art collection which is one of the largest in the United States. The sub-saharan African art collection has over 5,000 pieces, making it one of the largest collections in the country. As both collections are so vast, a first-time visitor can view them online to determine beforehand which pieces they are interested in seeing up close. Popular events at the Brooklyn Museum include the Target First Saturdays, which has a theme revolving around a new exhibition and features talks, guided tours and more.

The Africa Center

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In 1984, the Museum of African Art was created. It was a space dedicated to historical and contemporary African art. However, the museum never had a permanent space and instead operated through pop-ups. The Africa Center is it’s predecessor and, according to its website, “will be a home for exhibitions, performances and showings of visual, performing, and digital art from Africa. It will be a space in which the continent speaks for itself, a platform for the most compelling contemporary content from the continent.” The Africa Center will be located in Harlem and one of the artists in residence will be Victor Ekpuk, whose exhibition will be titled Harlem Sunrise. There will also be an on-site restaurant called Teranga, which will serve African-inspired comfort food. Visit their website and social media pages to keep up to date on the opening.

Okay Space Gallery

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Okay Space hosts panel discussions and exhibitions around artists of African descent | © Okay Space

Okay Space Gallery is a multi-use gallery and activation space located inside the Okay Space and Okay Africa office in Brooklyn. In addition to exhibitions, there are panel discussions with artists. Artists who have showcased include Sophia Dawson, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and others. Events are always free unless otherwise stated.

Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts

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Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, New York
Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, New York
The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MOCADA) was founded 20 years ago to use art, and particularly visual art, to explore new artistic production and performing arts. According to their website, “MOCADA incites dialogue on pressing social and political issues facing the African diaspora, and fosters a dynamic space for the creation and continuous evolution of culture.”

The Studio Museum Harlem

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The Studio Museum in Harlem is dedicated to African American artists
© White House Photo / Alamy Stock Photo
The Studio Museum Harlem is dedicated to showcasing the work of artists of African descent locally, nationally, and internationally. Previous artists from Africa that have featured include Kayode Ojo, Meleko Mokgosi, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Kehinde Wiley and more. Works include photographs, paintings, mixed media, drawings and more. The Studio Museum Harlem is currently undergoing renovations, but their temporary space, Studio Museum 127, is located at 429 West 127th Street between Amsterdam and Convent Avenues. Other satellite locations include the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which will hosts the Firelei Báez: Joy Out of Fire exhibit until November 24.

Pioneer Works

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Pioneer Works is an art gallery located in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. It is dedicated to production, education and experimentation. Although it doesn’t specifically cater to African art, it is known as the venue for the annual 1–54 African Art Fair which according to their website is “the leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.” For updates on the 2019 edition of 1–54 African Art Fair in New York, visit their website. In the meantime, PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince is the latest exhibition showing until November 11.

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