A Museum of Things Opens in NYC

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Opening tomorrow, May 23: Museum, a new free museum that preserves the often overlooked, unseen, and forgotten treasures from the streets, stores, and people of the world, most prominently New York City. It’s located in what was once a freight elevator in the back of a Broadway building in Cortlandt Alley, between Franklin and White Streets. Museum is an immaculate, 80-square-foot space that displays odd collections, hundreds of found and vernacular objects, and items of curiosity from around the world. This kind of thing must be in the air.

“We try to make one really understand each object through its history and context,” explains Benny Safdie, one of Museum’s three curator-directors. (The others are his brother, Josh Safdie; and Alex Kalman.) “Sometimes barbed wire is just barbed wire, but when it comes from a concentration camp, the whole thing transforms.”

“We wanted to create a space that gives respect and shows off what we find beautiful, beauty that is often forgotten or overlooked,” Kalman says. “It is a reminder that you can find beauty and magic in the everyday.”

Each item is accompanied with a story of its origin and how it has ended up in the Museum. You can read each one in a printed brochure that doubles as a poster, or call a a toll-free phone service, (888) 763-8839. You can punch in any object’s number and listen to its stories.

“Giving things a context is what makes anything valuable,” Josh Safdie explains. “Diamonds aren’t that rare, but everyone talks about them being forever, making them a girl’s best friend—and thus they’re highly valuable. A handwritten business card advertising a weed service with Jewish stars drawn on it is more valuable than a one-carat SS-V2 diamond.”

In addition to the permanent collection, the first show (May 24–November 24) includes: toothpastes from around the world, from the collection of the industrial designer Tucker Viemeister; misspelled food labels from a famous New York kitchen, collected by the sous chef Lulu Kalman; “homemade intimidation weapons” of self-defense from Lance De Los Reyes; the “Jackson Pollock” backs of Polaroids from the collection of the artist Andy Spade; paper works collected from copying machines around the city by the artist Leah Singer; and “objects found at the bottom of Pacific Ocean,” from the collection of the deep-sea diver Mark Cunningham. Museum is open to submissions by the public. All proposed submissions for single objects and collections will be reviewed by the curators.