There is a fracture in New York City. Walking down a shabby little alley in TriBeCa, you look to the side. A tiny room. Open doors. A small, but perfectly formed museum.
The woman sitting by the door notices you, welcomes you in. She is sitting in front of the gift shop (a shelf with pencils, badges and neatly folded tshirts) and the coffee shop (a K-Cup dispenser). You part the transparent plastic curtains and walk inside.
If the Museum feels like you’re in an elevator, it’s because it was built at the bottom of an elevator shaft in an old factory. The alley doesn’t feel safe, but once the curtains fall back behind you, you’re in a quiet space. A misplaced museum of misplaced objects.
Over at We are the Market Alex Kalman, one of the Museum’s creator’s, explained the motivation:
For us Museum is a collection of modern day artifacts. We love how much you can learn about societies around the world by looking at their small cultural output—not necessarily as creative as art but their products. We like thinking of these objects as proof of story or existence, when you’re face to face with an object you can’t deny it. We love cultures creating. We try to remind people of the value of things by putting them into the mmuseumm.
A museum of found and collected objects. It has a permanent collection, including a shoe said to have been thrown at President Bush in 2008 and a terrifying immersion water heater from Lithuania. There’s a collection of photographs rejected from a Cambodian restaurant menu, three electric razors owned by Al Goldstein (owner of Screw magazine), soap bars carved using a pencil by a murderer while on death row.
Just looking at the hundreds of items in this tiny little space, that isn’t enough.
You call up a number and punch in the code by each item to hear its story. Everything has a story. Some are brief, some lengthy, some terrifying, others hilariously funny.
As you look around, a couple more people arrive. The guard advises that the museum is full and that maybe they should walk around the block or grab a coffee before coming back. The museum is full when three people are there.
That’s the blessing and the curse of the Museum. It opened in the summer of 2012; it’s open weekends 11am-7pm; the rest of the time you can view the items (and call up the number) through viewing windows. For as long as it remains a small, misplaced home for objects with unique stories it is one thing. A moment of beauty, the highlight of any visit to the city.
But can it last? I hear more and more people talking about Museum. I’m one of them too. We’re all urging you to go. It was even featured in Time Out New York. Soon I’m picturing a long line of people waiting, drumming their fingers, to get in. The sense of discovery I felt at finding this place and the leisurely time I spent on the phone listening to stories… it won’t be the same.
The Museum is beautiful and absurd. The most refreshing museum I’ve visited in years. I want you to see it. By seeing it, we may change it. But you have to go. Oh, and treat yourself to a little something from the gift shop while you’re there: we want it to be around for a long time to come. Whatever that looks like.
Address: Courtlandt Alley between Franklin and White Streets, TriBeCa, NYC
Hours: 11am-7pm Saturday and Sunday, visible 24/7 through the windows