The museum originally opened in a space in the Graduate Centre of the then-named New School for Social Research at 65 Fifth Avenue. The New Museum remained there until 1983, when it rented and moved to the first two and a half floors of the Astor Building at 583 Broadway in the SoHo neighborhood.
In 1999, Marcia Tucker was succeeded as director by Lisa Phillips, previously the curator of contemporary art at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2001, the museum rented 7,000 square feet of space on the first floor of the Chelsea Art Museum on West 22nd Street for a year.
Over the past five years, the New Museum has exhibited artists from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Germany, Poland, Spain, South Africa, Turkey, and the United Kingdom among many other countries. In 2003, the New Museum formed an affiliation with Rhizome, a leading online platform for global new media art.
In 2005, the museum was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
On December 1, 2007, the New Museum opened the doors to its new $50 million location at 235 Bowery, between Stanton and Rivington Streets. The seven-story 58,700-square-foot facility, designed by the Tokyo-based firm Sejima + Nishizawa/SANAA and the New York-based firm Gensler, has greatly expanded the Museum’s exhibitions and space. In April 2008, the museum's new building was named one of the architectural New Seven Wonders of the World by Conde Nast Traveler.
The Bowery location has gallery and events space, plus a Resource Center with books and computers for access to their main web site and digital archive. The New Museum Digital Archive is an online resource that provides accessibility to primary sources from exhibitions, publications, and programs. The archive holds 7,500 written and visual materials for artists and researchers to access. The New Museum Digital Archive's database is searchable through 4,000 artists, curators, and organizations connected to New Museum exhibitions, performances, and publications.
When she founded the museum, Marcia Tucker decided it should buy works and sell them 10 years later so that its collection would always be new. It was an innovative plan that was never carried out. In 2000, the museum accepted its first corporate donation of artworks. The museum now has a modest collection of about 1,000 works in many media. In 2004, it joined forces with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in raising $110,000 from two foundations -- $50,000 from the American Center Foundation and $60,000 from the Peter Norton Family Foundation—to help pay for commissioning, buying, and exhibiting the work of emerging young artists.
The Museum presents the work of under-recognized artists, and has mounted ambitious surveys of important figures such as Ana Mendieta, William Kentridge, David Wojnarowicz, Paul McCarthy and Andrea Zittel before they received widespread public recognition. In 2003, the New Museum presented the highly regarded exhibition Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Continuing its focus of exhibiting emerging international artists, the museum organized the much discussed and visited exhibition, The Generational: "Younger Than Jesus" curated by Massimiliano Gioni, in 2009 which went on the become the first edition of its now signature exhibition series the "New Museum Triennial". Subsequently the museum held the second and third editions of its Triennial, respectively; "The Ungovernables" (2012 – curated by Eungie Joo) and the much lauded "Surround Audience" (2015 – curated by Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin).
Promoted twice since joining the New Museum in 2011, Margot Norton has organized exhibitions including one by Turner Prize-winner Laure Prouvost and the museum solo of Judith Bernstein.
The museum has announced a summer show, scheduled to open on 20 July 2016, called "The Keeper". With over 4,000 objects from more than two dozen collectors, it presents object lessons about the process of collecting.Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest (10/26/16 – 01/15/17)
My Barbarian: The Audience is Always Right (09/28/16 – 01/08/17)
Surround Audience triennial (02/25/15 – 05/24/15)
Night and Day: Chris Ofili (10/29/14 – 02/01/15)
Lili Reynaud-Dewar: LIVE THROUGH THAT?! (10/15/14 – 01/25/15)
Here and Elsewhere (7/16/14-9/28/14)
Pawel Althamer: The Neighbors (2/12/14-4/13/14)
Laure Prouvost: For Forgetting (2/12/14-4/13/14)
Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module (1/22/14-4/13/14)
Occupied Territory: A New Museum Trilogy (1/22/14-4/13/14)
Chris Burden: Extreme Measures (10/2/13-01/12/14)
Ghosts in the Machine (7/18/12-9/30/12)
The Ungovernables triennial (2/15/12-4/22/12)
Carsten Höller: Experience (10/26/11-01/22/12)
Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other (6/23/10-9/19/10)
Younger than Jesus triennial (4/8/09-7/12/09)
Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton(10/8/08-1/11/09)
Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century (12/1/07-3/30/08)
In 2008, art dealer Barbara Gladstone initiated the formation of the Stuart Regen Visionaries Fund at the New Museum, established in honor of her late son and renowned art dealer. The gift was meant to support a new series of public lectures and presentations by cultural visionaries, the Visionaries Series, which debuted in 2009 and features prominent international thinkers in the fields of art, architecture, design and contemporary culture; past speakers have included Alice Waters and Jimmy Wales.
NEW INC, the first museum-led incubator, is a shared workspace and professional development program designed to support creative practitioners working in the areas of art, technology, and design. Conceived by the New Museum in 2013, the incubator is a not-for-profit platform that furthers the Museum’s ongoing commitment to new art and new ideas. Launching in summer 2014, NEW INC will provide a collaborative space for a highly selective, interdisciplinary community of one hundred members to investigate new ideas and develop a sustainable practice. NEW INC full-time members include Erica Gorochow, Anders Sandell, Lisa Park, Kevin Siwoff, Kunal Gupta, Justin Cone, Jonathan Harris, Joe Doucet, Greg Hochmuth, Luisa Pereira, Nitzan Hermon, Tristan Perich, Sougwen Chung, Philip Sierzega, Paul Soulellis, Charlie Whitney, Binta Ayofemi, and Emilie Baltz.
IDEAS CITY explores the future of cities around the globe with the belief that art and culture are essential to the vitality of today’s metropolis, making it a better place to live, work, and play. Founded by the New Museum in 2011, IDEAS CITY is a major collaborative initiative between hundreds of arts, education, and community organizations that consists of two distinct components: The biennial IDEAS CITY Festival in New York City, and IDEAS CITY Global Conferences in key urban centers around the world.
In 2002, the New Museum sold its previous home in SoHo for $18 million. It subsequently bought the new Bowery site for $5 million. In order to cover the building and endowment, it raised an estimated $64 million.
Since taking office, director Lisa Phillips expanded board membership to 42 from 18. As of 2015, it includes collectors Maja Hoffmann, Dakis Joannu, Eugenio López Alonso, and Leonid Mikhelson, among others.