Must-See NYC Fall Art: Garbage Trucks, Outer Space, Politics

New York City museums seem to always offer plenty of wonderful art collections, but this fall families in the five boroughs will find interesting exhibits on math, history, and more. Fittingly during this election season, a few museums have focused on past and current presidents.

While you might think kids would find exhibits about our country’s leaders and current events a bit boring, these museums have curated displays that ought to spark curiosity. Plus, if your child is at all like mine, this election has been a surprisingly hot topic among friends, which only proves New Yorkers of all ages love a good political debate.

Whatever your child’s interests, you’re sure to find something on this list that appeals and educates. After all, to quote a karaoke favorite, "the children are our future." (Sorry about the earworm.)

We've noted which exhibits are FREE, but click through for prices on the rest. Remember, many NYC museums are FREE for kids at a certain age—or for all at a certain time or day.

See the original Winnie the Pooh and friends back on display at the New York Public Library. Photo courtesy of Children's Center. 

The New York Adventures of Winnie the Pooh — Midtown
On permanent display from Wednesday, August 2
Winnie-the-Pooh might seem to be about a “Bear of Very Little Brain,” but it’s really about enduring friendships, which is why the book has delighted children (and adults) for generations. Now, the inspiration for the book, the original Winnie-the-Pooh—given to A.A. Milne’s son Christopher Robin almost a hundred years ago—is back on display again at the Children's Center at the 42nd Street New York Public Library after more than a year of restoration. Winnie is joined by friends Eeyore, Kanga, Piglet, and Tigger, who were also repaired. Winnie might not think he’s so bright, but looking good at 95 and having lifelong best friends seems pretty smart to me.

Witness to War — Park Slope
On permanent display from August 26
Don’t judge, but until I learned about this exhibit I was ignorant of the number of Revolutionary War battles in New York City. In fact, NYC was under British occupation for seven years, and the largest battle of the war took place in Brooklyn. At Witness to War at the Old Stone House your kids can explore an interactive map of the Battle of Brooklyn, play a 3-D board game, touch a cannonball, and hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence — and then hit the playground. Yes!

Mission to Space — Soho
September 13-January 15, 2017
Convinced your kid is a future rocket scientist? Here’s your chance to help he or she learn about the “final frontier,” with art works exploring the history and potential of space exploration at the Children's Museum of the Arts. Mission to Space features work from artists including Tom Sachs (whose recently closed exhibit at the Noguchi Museum was fun for all ages), E.V Day, Michael Kagan, and Penelope Umbrico. 

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A crocheted jellyfish is part of the Crochet Coral Reef exhibit at The Museum of Arts and Design. Photo courtesy of the Institute For Figuring.

Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS — Upper West Side
September 15-January 22, 2017
This is not your grandmother’s crochet. This brilliantly hued exhibit fuses plastic trash with yarn to re-create beautiful faux coral habitats. One section celebrates the brilliant colors of healthy coral, while others demonstrate the stress reefs face as ocean temperatures rise. In addition, the artists, who happen to be sisters, saved four years of their own trash to create a “reef,” designed to spark a conversation about topics such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. No matter if your kid’s interests lie in crafting, environmentalism, the ocean, or even a fascination with trash, this exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design has them covered.

Twisted Thruway — Chelsea
On permanent display from September 16
Twisted Thruway makes math fun. Visitors to the National Museum of Mathematics can “drive” remote-controlled cars on two gravity-defying tracks: a Möbius strip (a twisted cylinder) and a trefoil knot. "Drivers" view a point-of-view camera attached to each car that makes it seem as if the car is driving upside down. In reality, it’s an optical illusion, thanks an unusual mathematical surface. The exhibit, which was inspired by a Möbius track Ray and Charles Eames created in the 1960s, took two years to develop from concept to working drawings.

Scarecrow art at Scarecrows: From the Heartland to Horror. Photo courtesy of NYBG.

Scarecrows: From the Heartland to Horror — the Bronx
September 17–October 30
Included in garden admission price
The New York Botanical Garden is gearing up for Halloween with several activities, but the most dramatic may be artist Ray Villafane’s larger-than-life sculptures with moving eyes and limbs. Three vignettes document the evolution of the scarecrow in the United States, from its beginning guarding crops to a cultural icon in film and comic books. (If animated scarecrows sound too intense for your little one, the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden at the NYBG will feature 25 friendly and non-moving scarecrows.) 

Maintenance Art — Corona, Queens
September 18–February 19, 2017
Is your kid obsessed with garbage trucks? But then again, who doesn’t like the idea of a mirrored garbage truck? Mierle Laderman Ukeles served for almost 40 years as artist-in-residence for New York City’s Department of Sanitation, and did some groundbreaking work about the nature of maintenance efforts sure to fascinate you and your child. Find it at the Queens Museum at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Vivian Keulards' Fleur is one of the teens featured in Me and My Selfie. Photo courtesy of Photoville.

Photoville — Dumbo/Brooklyn Heights
September 21-25
Don’t miss the fifth annual Photoville, a free pop-up photography exhibit staged in (and around) more than 55 shipping containers temporarily converted into art galleries in Brooklyn Bridge Park. This year's exhibitions cover a variety of subjects, including On the Street with Bill Cunningham and Me and My Selfie, which features portraits of young teenagers next to their own selfies. In addition, Photoville will feature four outdoor exhibits from National Geographic, nighttime projection programs, workshops, panel discussions; and a food and beer garden. Bonus: Outdoors and you can wheel the stroller straight into many of the "galleries."

Presidential Autographs — Upper West Side
October 1-December 31
This timely exhibit at the Children's Museum of Manhattan showcases autographed presidential memorabilia, including Richard Nixon's letter of resignation, two pages of Abraham Lincoln's handwriting, and personal checks signed by Harry Truman, Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt. There is also plenty of hands-on fun: Children can practice their own autographs, vote in a mock election, and learn about collecting.

EAF16: Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition — Long Island City, Queens
September 25-March 13, 2017
What would happen if Socrates Sculpture Park floated in the sky above Queens, leaving behind a gaping hole in the earth? This group exhibit attempts to answer that question and others. The work Accidental Flight takes inspiration from Alexander Graham Bell’s original proto-flying machines and explores ethical dilemmas in aviation. Another exhibit scatters life-sized busts of Astoria-born Christopher Walken all over the park. I’m not totally sure what bigger question that addresses, but who wouldn’t want to see multiple Christopher Walkens?

Visit with Eleutherodactylus iberia, the second smallest frog in the world, and more creatures at ¡Cuba! Photo by C. Raxworth/courtesy of AMNH.

¡Cuba! — Upper West Side
November 21-August 13, 2017
Included in General Admission Plus One
The very first U.S.-Cuba commercial flight in 50 years recently took off. But if a trip to Cuba isn’t in your future, your family still can explore the island’s incredibly diverse wildlife. This Natural History Museum exhibit, staged in partnership with a major Cuban museum, teaches children about the endangered Cuban crocodile, and also allows them to visit a cave environment with live lizards, boas, frogs, and fossil remains. If reptiles aren’t your cup of Cuban coffee, you can explore an everyday street scene, complete with music and dancing.

Top image: Site on the move, a billboard and web-based project by Dachal Choi and Mathew Suen envisions a situation in which Socrates Sculpture Park floats into the sky. Photo courtesy of the park.

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