American Folk Art Museum

Prominently located near Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Central Park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the American Folk Art Museum is home to one of the country’s most acclaimed collections of art created by self-taught artists working in a variety of mediums. The museum’s permanent collection brings together some 8,000 items from all over the world and features art from the 1700s alongside contemporary pieces. The American Folk Art Museum also regularly hosts special exhibitions covering a wide range of subjects.

History of the American Folk Art Museum

The attraction known today as the American Folk Art Museum began humbly some sixty years ago, and across its six decades of existence has occupied a number of different spaces throughout New York City. It got its start in 1961 as a single pop-up exhibition hosted in a rented space on West 53rd Street near the Museum of Modern Art. Initially called the Museum of Early American Folk Arts, the museum would in time shift its focus from strictly American folk art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to embody a more holistic, global perspective, all the while acquiring a well-regarded permanent collection.

The arrival of the twenty-first century would herald a number of exciting developments for the museum. In 2001, the attraction took its current name—the American Folk Art Museum—and opened a permanent building next door to MoMA. It would later sell that property to MoMA and move into its current location at 2 Lincoln Square, where it operates to this day.

What’s at the American Folk Art Museum

Over 8,000 items comprise the permanent collection of the American Folk Art Museum. This acclaimed permanent collection is made up of a remarkable array of artworks, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, furniture, books, textiles, and even hundreds of wildlife decoys. Artists from all over the planet and across parts of four centuries are represented here.

The American Folk Art Museum routinely hosts temporary exhibitions that explore special topics and subjects unique to the rich and expansive field of folk art. By their very nature, these exhibitions are always changing, but recent shows have covered themes as eclectic as weathervanes, quilts, and much, much more.

The American Folk Art Museum is also home to a Library and Archive widely considered one of the best repositories of folk-art scholarship in the world. It contains approximately 10,000 volumes of monographs, exhibition catalogs, and periodicals. Its reading rooms are open to researchers by appointment only.

The American Folk Art Museum shop sells an assortment of folk art-related merchandise perfect for guests of the museum who enjoy their visit and want to take home a souvenir or two. Items for sale here include jewelry, personal accessories, games, stationery, and books. Home décor objects such as rugs, pillows, framed art, and kitchen accessories are available, too.

Tips for Visiting the American Folk Art Museum

  • The American Folk Art Museum is currently open Wednesdays through Sundays between the hours of 11:30am and 6:00pm. Admission is free, and while advance reservations are not required, they are strongly recommended.
  • The American Folk Art Museum sponsors guided tours, live music, interactive kids programming, and more throughout the year. For the latest information on what special events might be taking place when you’re planning to visit, be certain to check out the museum’s calendar in advance of your trip.
  • Given the museum’s prominent location on the Upper West Side, parking in the area is going to be both difficult to procure and quite expensive. As a result, when in doubt it’s best to take public transportation. Numerous bus routes service the attraction, and the 66 St/Lincoln Center subway stop is just steps away from the main entrance.
  • Conversely, being located in such a prominent spot means you can conveniently combine a visit to the American Folk Art Museum with an outing to one or more of numerous other popular attractions situated nearby. For instance, the American Folk Art Museum is within easy walking distance of many favorite Central Park stops. It’s also near Columbus Circle and the Museum of Arts and Design, and just several blocks south of the American Museum of Natural History and the New-York Historical Society.