In a story as old as time, artists in search of light, space and affordability have been looking ever northward as traditional outer-borough NYC nabes get too pricey. And as we all know, where the artists go, so goes the art (and cafes, bars and good restaurants). Luckily for these artists, though, the Hudson Valley is already home to some fantastic art destinations, in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.
1. A Day at the Neuberger Museum (32 miles from NYC)
Despite its stodgy brick facade, the Neuberger Art Museum at SUNY Purchase houses an impressive collection of works by modern artists and established contemporary ones, too—where else can you see Jasper Johns and Jenny Holzer sharing wallspace? And unlike NYC's oversized super-structures, you can conquer the Neuberger in a little less than a day, leaving you with an inflated sense of cultural accomplishment. Still not enough to get you to Westchester? Well how about this: even if you can't get to the Neuberger during the week, a Saturday or Sunday visit is guaranteed to be quiet—aside from the occasional ultimate frisbee crowd, most of the students will be peacefully sleeping off their hangovers.
2. You Are Now Entering the Peekskill Artist Zone (50 miles)
Just as the center of this historic river town was emptying out in the early 90s, it began an aggressive policy of courting the artists who were being priced out of Soho and the East Village. Now, with a community of well over a hundred galleries and artist studios concentrated in a dozen downtown blocks, Peekskill feels a bit like Bushwick. Its proactive Arts Council and many converted live-work loft spaces opened over the last 15 years continue to draw the creative types. Just an hour from Grand Central, make the trip on the first Friday of the month for the local gallery night to get a full appreciation of the scene. After visiting local mainstays like Coulter Young Gallery and Maxwell Fine Arts, stop by Birdsall House for a dinner of locally farm-sourced food and a few of their 20 domestic draught beers—just don't miss the last train home.
3. Getting Lost at Storm King (60 miles)
Abutting Interstate 87, near Mountainville (though it's so quiet you'd never know it), sits Storm King Art Center. It's a 500-acre sculpture park with a simple mission statement: to house objects that are just too fucking big to live in museums. Expect to see colossal works by post-modern masters like Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, and David Smith, all set against a lush, green landscape. And if 500 acres is a few too many for you to tackle by foot, there's a trolley tour that leaves every half hour or so. Maya Lin's Wavefield installation is the park's biggest draw, and you'll definitely want to check it out.
4. A Beacon for Art Nerds (70 miles)
Since it opened in 2003, Dia: Beacon has quickly become the weekend destination for NYC's art nerds, er, enthusiasts. No more than a ten-minute walk from the Metro-North stop, the museum is home to the Dia Art Foundation's permanent collection. The 300,000 square-foot space used to be owned by Nabisco, but instead of Nilla Wafers, now it houses less tasty but just as important objects by some of the 20th century's heaviest hitters—think Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, and Lawrence Weiner. If all that Heizer has you hungry, check out The Piggy Bank Restaurant on Main Street, home of the Hudson Valley's best (yep, you guessed it) pulled-pork sandwich.
5. Williamsburg North: Rosendale, NY (93 miles)
You may have read about tiny, hipster Rosendale in the New York Times last month. Or not. Well, that story focused on two former Williamsburg veterans who've escaped Brooklyn for the quieter (cheaper) confines of this former industrial town. Trippy Thompson and Jenifer Constantine opened Market Market three years ago, and have seen the restaurant/arts general store flourish alongside gallery spaces like Roos Arts and Wings Art, as Brooklynites looking for affordability—and light—keep moving in. Recently spotted taking in the high culture of little Rosendale? Maggie Gyllenhaal. Yup.
6. The Hessel Museum, at Bard College (111 miles)
Bard College can be found along one of the most beautiful stretches of land in the entire world (entire world, people), namely the rolling verdant eastern shore of the Hudson River at the northernmost tip of Dutchess County. Perhaps the best part is that it's only an hour and a half (by Amtrak, to Rhinecliff) from NYC. Well, perhaps the best part is Bard's sneakily good Hessel Museum, a world-class institution which boasts a permanent collection featuring the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Raymond Pettibon, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker and many, many more. The current must-see exhibition at Hessel is a first-ever look at the private collection of Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, curated by White Columns fancy-pants (and Bard alum) Matthew Higgs; the show, At Home/Not at Home, features work by Peter Doig, Mary Heilmann, Elizabeth Peyton, Rirkrit Tiravanija and more. When you're done, head to nearby Tivoli (a swell little town) for a fucking great meal at Luna 61, the best restaurant in the area. Oh, and don't forget to say goodbye to the hothouse hipsters of Bard's student body, who will be serving you pizza at Roberta's come September.
7. The Hudson Art Scene (125 miles)
Just 20 minutes north of sleepy Bard lies the great northern megalopolis of Hudson. Well, ok, it's not that big, but the last decade has seen a rebirth of this former working town as artsy city folk have been riding the Amtrak in droves (stops right in town!), opening up antique stores and buying up all the nice old dilapidated whaling mansions. Oh, and art galleries, they opened up some art galleries... To begin your tour, just walk straight up Warren Street from the train station, making sure to pop your head into Nicole Fiacco Gallery, Carrie Haddad Gallery and Limner Gallery (but don't limit yourself to galleries, as some of the fancier "junk" shops seem like antiquities storerooms for major museums). To fuel your artful meanderings, grab some grub at Mexican Radio or locally sourced Swoon.
8. Oh My: Omi International Arts Center (140 miles)
Set on 90 acres of farmland and forest, the Omi International Arts Center has planted new sculptures every spring for over a decade, growing into a rare and rich (and free!) outdoor exhibition space for contemporary art. They're open year-round, but every summer a few new artists join the crop: this year, recent Madison Square Park alum Mel Kendrick contributes a zebra-striped sculpture, along with a light installation by the late architect Simon Unger, and colorful, rough-hewn works by Robert Melee and Franz West. You'll need to drive here from Hudson (which is 2 hours from NYC on the Amtrak), but since you're in the area you should set up a visit with their neighbors, Union Square Greenmarket old-timers Grazin' Angus Acres.