Small Museum Shows Off Weird Objects

In this encore report, we hear about a small museum in an elevator shaft in lower Manhattan. It's only six feet square, and only about three or four people can enter it at a time. The exhibits document the weird and wonderful of modern life, including prison contraband made from bread. (This piece originally aired on Jan. 2, 2014 on All Things Considered).

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A visit to the new National 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City will be one of the most costly museum tickets in town. Lacking government funding for ongoing operations, the museum's board of trustees yesterday voted to set the admission price at $24.

The 9/11 museum opens later this year in lower Manhattan and with almost 52 million tourists in New York City each year, it's bound to draw large crowds. Let's hear now about a different museum, a rather odd one where there is no room for mobs. NPR's Margot Adler recently made a visit and in an encore broadcast, we go along to New York's tiniest museum.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Imagine a museum that's only six feet square. It's simply called Museum and it's housed in an old elevator shaft in an alley not far from the city's courts. It has some odd exhibits on 18 small shelves. Only about four people at a time can fit into the space. It was created by three filmmakers: two brothers, Josh and Benny Safdie, and Alex Kalman. Josh Safdie says the three filmmakers would tell amazing tales to each other of what they had seen and found in the city, and the others would say, no way, and want proof.

JOSH SAFDIE: So we would be like, I saw these fake Sharpies and it was called Shoopay, and, you know, it was like no, you didn't. He was like, actually I brought one just for you. So we started to develop this kind of collection of stuff.

ADLER: And those Sharpies are in the museum, bootleg, apparently from China.

SAFDIE: You can buy them, you know, for, like, 40 for a dollar essentially. And they dry out really quickly and they are terrible, but each design is a slight riff on the word Sharpie.

ADLER: All the exhibits document the odd and delightful of modern life. Charnelle, Darryn, and Laura King, a husband, wife and sister from Sidney, Australia come by.

CHARNELLE KING: I love little pop up stuff. So I'm still trying to figure out what's going on, actually.

DARRYN KING: The display of vomit from all around the world is quite interesting. It's very enlightening.

ADLER: Yes, he did say a display of vomit from around the world. It's actually fake vomit, and many of the examples have a certain Jackson Pollock quality. There's a number you can call to find out about each object.

RECORDING: Welcome to Museum, please enter the object's reference number at any time.

ADLER: Most of the descriptions are serious, but Peter Allen, who collected the fake vomit, is clearly having a bit of fun at the art world's expense.

PETER ALLEN: This subtle palate of primarily beige tones intercedes with robust fragments of dimensional inner meaning.

ADLER: Another shelf has bullet proof backpacks, which came out after some of the school shootings. They are all in pastels and pinks with Disney-like characters.

SAFDIE: And they say things like blast off, or I believe in fairy tales, or nice day for flying.

ADLER: It's fairly creepy. There are three shelves devoted to the Late Al Goldstein, editor of Screw magazine. There's a pair of his gold Air Jordans, size 13. There is a shelf devoted to prison contraband, including a tiny, tiny pair of dice, molded from bread with the dots done in felt pen, easy to hide in a cell or even in your mouth. And then there's this shoe that the museum says was thrown at George Bush in Iraq in 2008 by an Iraqi journalist. Most reports say the shoe was destroyed. But Safdie won't give its provenance.

SAFDIE: We promised that we would never say who they were and where we got it from, and, you know, as much as we can believe it, you can believe it.

ADLER: It's one of their biggest attractions, he says, but it's just a shoe. Lily Ash walks in: She's an artist. She says the space is tiny and you wouldn't think it had much in it.

LILY ASH: But there is so much stuff and it's all really interesting to look at, and weird.

ADLER: The museum is only open on weekends, although you can look through a window on other days. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Our theme music was written by BJ Leiderman and arranged by Jim Pugh. I'm Renee Montagne.

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