The Museum

The Museum (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Tucked away on Cortlandt Alley, a small side street that is itself tucked away between Tribeca and Chinatown, there’s a small, glowing, storefront space. It gleams pristinely like a cross between a brand-new grocery store and an art gallery, but the objects on display aren’t for sale. In fact, this is Manhattan’s latest self-ascribed museum — titled, simply, The Museum.

Museum wall text

Wall text at the Museum (click to enlarge)

The Museum does not house artworks, fashion or fossils; instead, it showcases bits and pieces of the everyday: a pile of broken glass from New York City, a plastic glove from Paradise Valley, Montana, a hot water coil heater from Kaunus, Lithuania. There are also some more traditionally notable offerings, such as the shoe thrown at George W. Bush at the Minister’s Palace in Baghdad in 2008 or a series of objects (driver’s license, cell phone, comb) salvaged from the Pacific Ocean by deep-sea diver Mark Cunningham. “A smart man’s garbage is a foolish man’s fortune & vice versa,” reads the Museum’s mission statement. “There is always beauty and magic in the plebeian.”

The Museum is the work of the three men behind indie outlet Red Bucket Films, Alex Kalman and Benny and Josh Safdie, and is sponsored, oddly enough, by Kate, Andy and Bea Spade (yes, that Kate Spade). Its ostensible and laudable goal is to transform our vision of seemingly mundane objects by giving them a new context. To that end, the item are displayed carefully on red-velvet-lined shelves, many of them mounted to the wall and thus hovering above their shelves like artifacts from outer space. The effect is a bit more jarring than transformative, though subsequent visits may temper that. Each piece is labeled with a number, and visitors may call an 800 number to access a free audio guide. After a brief musical flourish, which sounds like either the beginnings of cheesy hold music or the introduction of a Nova science television program, callers can enter objects’ numbers and hear descriptions, some of which are fairly terse, others longer and more interesting.

Crowd in front of the Museum

The crowd in front of the Museum, with writer Jonathan Ames front left (click to enlarge)

The Museum opened this past Wednesday night with a ribbon-cutting ceremony (a bad Rudolph Giuliani impersonator did the honors). Upwards of 50 people turned out at Cortlandt Alley for the occasion, which was “catered” by a local hot dog and pretzel truck. Being housed in a former freight elevator, the Museum can only fit three people inside at a time, so most of the crowd (who seemed to cover a small range of Soho/Chelsea chic to Williamsburg hipster) just hung out in the street, mingled and discussed the quirky project. At one point, a well-dressed young woman approached one of the creators to say hello. “Congratulations … or whatever,” she said.

The Museum (Cortlandt Alley, between Franklin Street and White Street, Tribeca, Manhattan) is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, by appointment only. See the website for more information.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

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