If you're of the artistic persuasion, no trip to New York is complete without a pilgrimage to the city's destination arts institutions: the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Frick Collection or the Cooper Hewitt. Yet despite their world-renowned collections, blockbuster shows and massive spending power, certain esoteric treasures just can't be found in these grand dames.
Consider the monolithic granite sculpture Helix of the Endless by Isamu Noguchi, one of the 20th century's most influential sculptors. Or a pair of Vivienne Westwood black leather and wood "Rocking Horse" boots with a cut-out heel. Or the Bamileke beadwork elephant mask from Cameroon. Or Gustav Klimt's elaborate - and complex in the extreme - oil and gold portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which fetched a whopping US$135 million at auction in 2006. All these are to be found at less celebrated cultural stalwarts: the Noguchi Museum, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Brooklyn Museum and the Neue Galerie, respectively.
If you haven't heard of these venerable places, don't be ashamed - few visitors to the city have. But to New Yorkers, to art connoisseurs the world over, and to me, they are cherished stars: their collections to be savoured at leisure. Their crowds are few compared to the scrums of rubberneckers found at their acclaimed sisters, the delights many and the elbows rarely required. They are New York's hidden gems.
The Neue Galerie A pocket-sized museum dedicated to early 20th-century German and Austrian art and design, the Neue Galerie is housed in one of the Fifth Avenue mansions once owned by the Vanderbilt family. It has an impressive collection of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, as well as decorative arts created at the Wiener Werkstätte and by celebrated architects Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner. German art is represented in the works of, among others, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix, and in the applied arts by the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The centerpiece of the museum is Klimt's aforementioned Adele Bloch-Bauer I.
After gemming up on the Wiener Werkstätte movement and ogling the Bauhaus silverware, most people head to Café Sabarsky on the ground floor. Possibly one of the most elegant cafés in New York, its atmosphere apes that of the great cafés of pre-war Vienna which were the epicentre of that city's intellectual and artistic life. The décor is period and includes lighting fixtures by Josef Hoffmann, furniture by Adolf Loos and banquettes upholstered with 1912 Otto Wagner fabric. The fare is traditional Viennese: beef goulash with herbed quark spätzle, smoked bratwurst with sauerkraut, and pastries such as Sachertorte, Linzertorte and apple strudel. Lederhosen are optional. 1048 Fifth Ave, +1 212 628 6200.
The New Museum Manhattan's only dedicated contemporary art museum might look like a haphazard pile of huge metal boxes, but the New Museum is an architectural landmark as well as a cultural one, having won numerous design gongs for the Japanese firm SANAA, most notably the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Outside, the building is monogrammed with Isa Genzken's Rose II. Inside, the eight-storey idiosyncrasy and its exhibitions also tend to the outré. The curators have a reputation for mounting shows on soon-to-be acclaimed artists: think Ana Mendieta, William Kentridge, David Wojnarowicz, Paul McCarthy and Andrea Zittel. Current exhibitions include "George Condo: Mental States" in the artist's first major retrospective in the country.
The views from the seventh-floor Sky Room are not to be missed, and neither are the bookstore with its offbeat zines and experimental publications, and the Birdbath café from acclaimed baker Maury Rubin - he who founded New York's famed City Bakery some 20 years ago. As well as seasonal, locally grown, organic food, there are pretzel croissants, turkey meatloaf sliders, and Birdbath sangría (sadly, non-alcoholic). The setting is both intimate and communal: tables and stools were specially commissioned from Brooklyn-based studio Uhuru, a furniture collective merging avant-garde design with environmental sustainability. On that note, turn up by bike or skateboard and Birdbath will knock 25 per cent off your bill - enough to keep you chirpy. 235 Bowery, +1 212 219 1222.
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) FIT has one of the best fashion collections in the world - something few outside the institution's student body and diehard New York fashion obsessives realise. The collection of garments and accessories, which numbers more than 50,000 pieces, dates from the 18th century to the present and includes some of the most acclaimed work by Balenciaga, Chanel, Azzedine Alaïa, Paul Poiret, Yves Saint Laurent, Comme des Garçons, Christian Dior, Halston, Vivienne Westwood and Charles James. It's an incredible resource, and its exhibitions continue to inspire many contemporary designers' collections. Currently showing are "His and Hers" and "Japan Fashion Now". "His and Hers" looks at the relationship between gender and fashion over the past 250 years through such clothes as a feminine 18th-century man's velvet suit and a woman's power suit from the 1980s to spotlight the changing norms of dress for each gender. "Japan Fashion Now" looks at the Japanese fashion revolution of the 1980s - "asymmetrical, deconstructed garments by Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons; avant-garde styles by Issey Miyake; Orientalist fashions by Kenzo and Hanae Mori; and pop-culture jumpsuits by Kansai Yamamoto - and how it created a new relationship between body and clothes, a new attitude towards the beauty of imperfection, and a new appreciation of avant-garde fashion as art". The show explores the designers who have carried that torch into the 21st century through a mix of the avant-garde and street style, as well as the Japanese obsession with riffing on the classics - jeans, trainers and leather jackets, to be precise.
In March the much-anticipated exhibition for the fashion crazies is "Vivienne Westwood, 1980-89", which charts Westwood's shift in design influence from street-style insiders to a more structured, feminine and historically inspired aesthetic. For those in the know, it's a chance to see the famous unisex ensembles from the Pirate collection (1981), ensembles from the influential Buffalo collection (1982) and a pair of Westwood's "Rocking Horse" boots (1987). Seventh Ave, between 27th and 28th Sts, +1 212 217 4558.
The Brooklyn Museum Most visitors to New York don't make it off Manhattan - crossing a bridge is just too much effort. Which is a shame, because New York's best-kept secret is a few minutes into Brooklyn and an oasis of peace compared to its Manhattan cohorts. The Brooklyn Museum's Egypt galleries, which cover 5000 years' worth of artefacts, are world renowned. Other highlights include American painting and sculpture: modern American masters Mark Rothko, Georgia O'Keeffe and Winslow Homer, and watercolors by the likes of Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell. There are also major pieces by John Singer Sargent, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro; early modernist art by Max Weber; and nigh on 50 Rodin works, including Monument to Balzac. The collections of non-Western art, especially African, are impressive.
Current exhibitions include "Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera" (until 10 April), a look at the staged study photographs that the naturalistic painter used to guide him for his iconic canvases of American life. Among the paintings on view will be The Tattoo Artist - one of many Rockwell created during World War II - depicting a young sailor stoically having his arm tattooed. It is shown alongside the working photographs by Gene Pelham.
The other photographic must-see at Brooklyn is Ghosts, Sam Taylor-Wood's 2008 exploration of the windswept Yorkshire Moors in England. The series was inspired by Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and the descriptions of the bleak, wild landscape between the parsonage where the Brontës lived and Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse and the alleged setting for the book. The results are stark and haunting - with a dash of the gothic for good measure. 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, +1 718 638 5000.
The Noguchi Museum The Noguchi Museum cuts an elegant if somewhat forlorn figure on the East River in Queens - probably because it's marooned in a sea of taxi garages, car-body workshops and warehouses. It houses the multifaceted oeuvre of Isamu Noguchi (1904-88), the influential Japanese-American modern artist, and I'd rate this the best mini museum in the Big Apple. There are early abstract sculptures that pay homage to his mentor Brancusi, Modernist stage sets designed for Martha Graham, monumental abstract granite and basalt stone works inspired by Japanese and Indian ancient art; everyday designs such as his biomorphic couch and tables; and the Akari light sculptures, paper lanterns that have been ripped off the world over.
Currently, the temporary exhibits include "On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and his Contemporaries, 1922-1960", which surveys Isamu Noguchi's artistic relationships with important figues in art, dance, architecture and design, including Arshile Gorky, Alexander Calder, Constantin Brancusi, Berenice Abbott, Frida Kahlo, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and Louis Kahn. The Noguchi galleries, housed in indoor, semi-outdoor and outdoor spaces, are created from the old photo-engraving plant that served as Noguchi's studio; they circle a sculpture garden with yet more of the artist's work. The garden even got a name-check in the fashion flick The Devil Wears Prada, garnering the Miranda Priestly (aka Anna Wintour) seal of approval for a photo shoot. It's a tranquil oasis worthy of a spot of introspection if you can manage it. 9-01 33rd Rd, Long Island City, +1 718 204 7088.
Bargemusic Bargemusic is a concert hall for chamber music in the most unlikely of settings: an 1899 coffee barge moored at the east side of the Brooklyn Bridge - the place immortalised by Walt Whitman's poem "Crossing Fulton Ferry" - which offers picture-postcard views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. The barge itself is a New York gem. To achieve perfect acoustics, founder and classical violinist Olga Bloom tried to mimic the resonant interior of a violin. She achieved this both aurally and visually by lining the steel walls of the barge in cherry wood reclaimed from the old Staten Island ferry, the American Legion. Today, the cargo is music. And artists from all over the world come to New York solely to perform here. As famed violinist Mark Peskanov, who now runs Barge Music, puts it: "There is no venue like it in the world." Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn Bridge; reservations +1 718 624 2083 or email email@example.com
MoMA PS1 MoMA PS1 is a MoMA offshoot where video and sound installations are given the same footing as sculpture, painting and photography. In autumn, sitting on a wooden pew at dusk in James Turrell's Meeting and looking up at the skylight is mesmerising. Other highlights include Sol Lewitt's Crayola Square, Richard Artschwager's blips, and William Kentridge's Stair Procession. Current exhibitions include "The Talent Show" which examines the relationships between artists and audiences and the competing desires for notoriety and privacy that we see in TV reality shows, talent competitions and web-based social media. Ranging from seemingly benevolent partnerships to those that appear to exploit their subjects, many of the works, by artists such as Gillian Wearing and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, "animate the tensions between exhibitionism and voyeurism, and raise challenging ethical questions around issues of authorship, power and control". Also not to be missed at MoMA PS1 are winter's Saturday Sessions, musical, filmic, and multidisciplinary performance events; and, in the summer, Warm Up, the oh-so-naughty dance party and music event that MoMA PS1 throws in its courtyard every Saturday in July and August. The series is housed within an architectural installation specially created each year. 22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue, Long Island City, +1 718 784 2084.
The Studio Museum in Harlem The Studio Museum, founded in 1968, is dedicated to celebrating modern and contemporary work by artists of African descent, including artists from the Caribbean and Africa, and work influenced and inspired by black culture. It's an important focal point for black artists worldwide. Appropriately enough, Harlem itself - that larger than life character, its streets and people - is the inspiration for many of the exhibitions. The neighbourhood's ethnic roots and the black liberation movement have been the subject of many shows. The collection includes the photographs of Aaron Siskind and James VanDerZee, the acclaimed chronicler of Harlem life in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, as well as works by contemporary artists such as Fred Wilson and Kara Walker. Showing now is Dawoud Bey's "Harlem, USA", which takes us on a journey through the historic neighborhood where the artist's parents met at church - it's a wonderful contemporary follow-up to the work of VanDerZee. 144 West 125th St, +1 212 864 4500.