Ground Zero Museum Workshop

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 57 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned I appreciated the inappropriate irony of this shot of a movie poster in the destroyed subway station at the World Trade Center.

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New York
Collateral Damage

During this project, mercifully few museums I’ve visited have felt like a waste of time.  Some because they required significant travel time to get there.  Some because their collections, space, or abilities just failed to live up to expectations.  But up until I visited the Ground Zero Museum Workshop, I never felt ripped off.

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New YorkThat it’s an institution related to September 11 doing the ripping makes it all the more vexing.  If you want to learn about 9/11, the large museum at the World Trade Center, the 9/11 Tribute Museum, or the moving display at the Fire Museum are all reasonable choices.  This is not.

The Studio Museum

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New York
You can sit on Ground Zero

The museum’s space consists of a single room, like a decently sized studio apartment.  It’s got a couch in the middle, and assorted stools, oddly emblazoned with photos from the 9/11 recovery on their seats.  If you’ve ever wanted to sit on a fireman, well, here you can.

A TV at one end of the room shows a 9/11-related video, if you want to see it.  And a large table mid-room plays the role of the gift shop, with posters and prints for sale.  The staff desk and computer is off to one side. Really quite a lot like a good-sized studio apartment.

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New York

The Story and Photos

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New YorkGary Suson was a photographer in New York City on September 11, 2001.  He was not, it seems, one of the many photographers who documented the collapse of the World Trade Center itself.  Rather, he finagled his way into being named the Fire Department’s official photographer of the clean-up efforts at Ground Zero.

Suson’s photos are…fine?  Good?  They often feel posed or staged, though. The ones of Ground Zero the place don’t generally hold much drama or emotion, and, surprisingly, neither do the photos with people in them.  Everyone seems very stoic and composed, exhausted and resigned. I wonder if this was part of his deal with the Fire Department.  Or maybe just Suson tactfully turning his lens away when someone working at Ground Zero couldn’t take anymore and broke down and cried or screamed. Those moments would have been visceral and uncomfortable, and maybe embarrassing today for those in them.  But they would almost certainly make for better than the photos on display.

Other Things

An audio guide, narrated by Gary Suson himself, describes nearly every picture and case of objects in the place.  Some descriptions get long and detailed, others are as brief as a single sentence or two. 

Some of the prints are done with a sort of 3D effect, created by printing on two layers, often with some debris or rocks or something at the level of the ground.  It’s an odd, craft-y sort of effect, and for me at least it doesn’t really add much.

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New York

In addition to taking photos, Suson also took a few things as well, assorted artifacts including some of the few pieces of glass that survived the extreme heat of the fires.  And various things that probably graced desks or shops in the Trade Center, scrupulously avoiding anything that could be tied to specific individuals.  

The museum calls itself a workshop because it allows visitors to touch a couple of selected artifacts.  A cross carved out of WTC steel, a chunk of the broken glass.  I suppose it is a differentiator, though I didn’t find it particularly cathartic or moving, edifying or entertaining.

Don’t Go to the Ground Zero Museum Workshop

The $25 admission to this place is at the very high end of New York City museum admission fees, and nowhere near justified by the content. That’s what MoMA and the Guggenheim charge.  It’s $1 more than the 9/11 Memorial and Museum — the official museum at the World Trade Center– charges.

Ground Zero Museum Workshop, New YorkThe Ground Zero Museum Workshop posts a whiteboard outside its door listing “recent donations” that it has made to FDNY 9/11-related charities.  From that, it appears several organizations benefit from the money it rakes in.  I might feel better about the place if it were more up-front about that:  maybe it should promise that X% of the admission price goes to 9/11 charities, and enable the visitor to choose from a list of say 5 preferred ones.  But in reality, the Ground Zero Museum’s sketchy donation record doesn’t justify the price of admission.

The Ground Zero Museum Workshop touts that TripAdvisor has named it one of the best museums in the city, and top 25 in the country for 2014.  However,  many of the glowing reviews there are by people who confuse this place for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  And no one seems incentivized to fix that.

Please trust an expert, thoughtful reviewer rather than an aggregate of who-knows-what crowdsourced information. This is assuredly not one of the best museums in the city or the country.   Stay away.


For Reference:

Address 420 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  $25


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