Let’s face it: You’re never going to be bored when you visit New York City. With the some of the world’s best restaurants, museums, galleries and other cultural institutions, your biggest question isn’t going to be “what is there to do?” but “what should we do?” And while museums like the Guggenheim, the Met and the Whitney house inspiring collections and work by world renowned artists, they can be a little one note. Instead, we’ve curated the below list of unusual museums in New York City not found in your guidebook.
Louis Armstrong Museum
The Louis Armstrong House Museum, the largest publicly held archival collection devoted to a jazz musician, is one of those “off-the-beaten track gems” guidebooks often pass over. The modest home in Corona, Queens, offers a look into one of the world’s most acclaimed musicians, giving visitors a glimpse into his life and legacy. Throughout the home–which was inhabited by Armstrong and his wife Lucille from 1943 for the remainder of their lives–visitors will hear Armstrong practicing his trumpet or clips from his homemade recordings. The collection also features the artist’s personal collection of scrapbooks, photographs, recordings, trumpets and manuscripts, amongst the furniture, appliances and paraphernalia left behind after the Armstrongs’ death. It’s a truly intimate collection worth viewing for any fans of jazz and Louis Armstrong.
The City Reliquary started as a 2002 project in an apartment window before moving to a storefront in 2006. The eclectic collection “celebrate[s] the community of New York’s present.” Visitors will find everything from postcards to subway paint chips, jelly molds to terracotta fragments of landmark buildings. While collecting bits, pieces, odds and ends that highlight New York as it is now, the museum also has a vibrant programming calendar filled with parties, concerts and film events held throughout the year. In addition, it works with local students to create exhibitions and to foster future generations of collectors and creators.
Museum at FIT
Because New York is the brightest star in the fashion firmament, it only makes sense that a museum dedicated to exploring fashion was built. The Museum at FIT is dedicated to exhibiting historically significant accessories, textiles, sketches and, of course, clothing. Housing 50,000 pieces of fashion-related material dating as far back as the 18th century and featuring rotating exhibits year-round, the Museum’s major highlights include work by Balenciaga, Dior and Chanel. Open to FIT students and the public alike, the Museum at FIT is a continued source of inspiration in fashion’s capital city.
Morbid Anatomy Library
Joanna Eberstein, founder and director of Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Library, has amassed a collection of books, catalogs, photographs, taxidermy, ephemera, and artifacts relating to medical museums, anatomical art, the history of medicine, death and society, natural history, and arcane media. Open to the public, the private collection is a macabre look at “the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture.” The space is housed within the walls of Proteus Gowanus, an interdisciplinary arts organization dedicated to creating an alternative arts environment “designed to stimulate the creative process.” The real value of Morbid Anatomy are the various series of workshops held throughout the month, contextualizing bits of the collection or otherwise bringing to light rituals, traditions, and practices of cultures as they pertain to the library’s mission.
The Tenement Museum
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum has fast grown into a cultural mainstay for the Manhattan neighborhood. Over the last 24 years, the museum has served as a five-story time capsule, preserving and interpreting the stories of New York City’s immigrant population. The building was previously shuttered for 50 years before the museum was founded. What was left after researchers combed through the apartments and archives of tenants was a collection that dives straight into the stories of over 7,000 tenants between the years of 1863 and 1935. Besides the long-standing collection, the museum also offers both tenement tours and walking tours, showing how the Lower East Side has changed over time.
It may be something of a trek to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloister Museum in upper Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, but it is worth it. Get off the 190th Street A Train and you wouldn’t know that you were still in NYC. The park is lush and green, situated in the hills above Washington Heights. With views overlooking the Hudson and parts of New Jersey, it’s a wonder how so much green exists in this corner of the city. The Cloisters themselves are in the center of it all, dedicated to exploring the art and architecture of medieval Europe. You’ll find galleries filled religious art, bejeweled reliquaries and architectural elements dating from the twelfth through the fifteenth century, all while walking through rooms constructed from buildings and structured dating from the same time period. During warmer months, the Cloister’s various gardens are stunning with new growths, buds and flowering plants, making it a great short-term escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
The Museum of Sex
Though much of the advertising put out by the Museum of Sex is cheeky and subversive, don’t just think it’s one big porn sesh when you walk through the door. True, there’s plenty of discussion about “blue films,” but what museum about sex wouldn’t dive into the history of those particular productions? No, the Museum of Sex is much more than that, seeking to “preserve the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality.” The three exhibition floors take you through the history of sex in America, dissecting it all through photography, art, comic books and commerce. Some galleries will have more embarrassed titters and giggles than others, but that’s to be expected. Part of the permanent collection is a room which explores sexual behavior in animals, while some exhibitions spotlight those pioneers and characters who’ve brought sex into mainstream conversation. If you’re feeling a little woozy from the subject matter, head down to the basement Aphrodisiac Bar and enjoy a titillating tipple. (Guests must be 18 or older to enjoy the Museum of Sex.
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