Museum With a Tiny Footprint and Big Swagger

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Last Thursday, Mmuseumm 1 (established in a former freight elevator at 4 Cortlandt Alley in Manhattan) and Mmuseumm 2 next door (even smaller)—the flagship wings of the small yet popular institution exploring big ideas about humanity through vernacular objects—opened for their highly anticipated 5th Annual season.

Photo: Naho Kubota

Photo: Naho Kubota

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Mmuseumm 1 features 15 never-before-seen exhibitions including:—ISIS Currency: facsimiles of the gold, silver and copper coins ISIS has designed and claims to be minting as its own form of currency.

—Fake American Fast Food Franchises of Iran: while sanctions prevent American companies from doing business in Iran, an assortment of fast food restaurants replicating American fast food franchises across the country have been opening. On exhibit is packaging from fake fast food restaurants including McMashallah (McDonald’s), Raees Coffee (Starbucks) and Super Star (Carl’s Jr).

—Donald Trump Merchandise: a collaboration with reporter Max Abelson includes a variety of Donald Trump branded merchandise, including Trump Vodka, Trump Airlines Wet-wipes, “Success” Cologne and a Trump Castle computer game that provide insight into the politician and his history as a businessman.

—Personal Items of Immigration: objects left behind in the Arizona desert by people making the dangerous journey on foot from Mexico across the border into the U.S. Items include a baby bottle, a cell phone, a water jug, a toothbrush, and a shoe wrapped in cloth to camouflage footprints.

—Other exhibitions at Mmuseumm 1 include Not Bombs, The Life and Invention of Sir Dr. Yoshiro NakaMats, Turning Vision into Touch and Sound, The Cornflake Taxonomy, Embalming Accessories, eclectic objects from Mmuseumm’s permanent collection and more.

At Mmuseumm 2, from Aleppo, Syria, is Future Aleppo—a 4×4 foot section from a miniature paper model city built by 14-year-old Mohammed Qutaish in his home in Aleppo toward the end of 2015.

I asked Mmuseumm director Alex Kalman to tell us more about this season’s raison d’etre.


Opening night looks like a crowded street in Rome. But it is downtown Manhattan. Photo: Casey Neistat

What is special, or rather surprising, about the new season?How contemporary the curation is. These are a couple hundred objects from around the world that are exploring narratives in current events, social issues, cultural trends in a universal and humanistic way. They are all dealing very directly with our world NOW. Like a room of Now.

How has Mmuseumm evolved over the past seasons?Its focus on curation has strengthened journalistically—not looking at design through a historic, technical or quantitative way, nor merely looking at “ephemera” in a humanistic way—but focusing on sharing a story about who we are now as a culture, as society, as humanity. It is a hybrid of curation and journalism—“curatorial journalism”—rather than using text, photo, video or digital to create immersive stories, Mmuseumm uses the objects themselves—the proof—and allows people to stand in front of it and see it, not a digital representation of it.

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Has the addition of the annex changed the way you think about your exhibits?The annex is a natural progression of Mmuseumm’s use of space. In some ways, very plainly, Mmuseumm needs more space. In terms of exhibits, the annex is wonderful because it allows the coverage to expand (and focus on slightly larger pieces). Every narrative (which a museum is, or a book, or a film, or a meal) is a system of organizing small pieces of information into a larger experience—it’s what’s happening with the objects inside the spaces—and it can also happen with the spaces themselves in geography. I think about the expansion of this contemporary form of museum as a growing network of wings that make up the total institution—they can be clustered and scattered, vary in size and in focus.

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What do you want visitors to take away this season?That looking around is the best. That our surroundings tell us stories about who we are. A feeling of a fresh form of curation that encourages visitors to engage with their own surroundings more. That life is full of contradiction—the most hilariously absurd and the most devastatingly destructive thing. And that there are many connections. That the world is endlessly interesting. That people are endlessly complex. That optimism prevails.

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About Steven HellerSteven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Design / Designer as Entrepreneur program, and writes frequently for EYE and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 190 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal, is in the Art Directors Hall of Fame and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →