|Should you go?
|Best thing I saw or learned
|Occlupanids. That’s the word for those little plastic whatsits that keep the bags store-bought bread comes in closed. How many of those have you seen in your life? Used? Thrown out? Have you ever thought about them? And yet, each got made somewhere, and each serves a purpose. Mmuseumm devoted an exhibition in its tiny space to making me see these quotidian things for the first time.
Of the institutions I’ve defined as “museums” for my purposes, New York’s largest (in area not breadth) is the 478-acre Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. I’ve now, at the eleventh hour of my museum-visiting project, visited the smallest museum in New York, the simply named if imaginatively spelled Mmuseumm. Located in a converted freight elevator down a narrow street just south of Canal Street in the non-neighborhood between Tribeca and Chinatown, I’ve seen walk-in closets larger than this quirky institution.
But what a density of eccentricity it achieves in its petite space!
Mmuseumm describes itself as devoted to now. “Now,” reads the Mmuseumm brochure, “is always weird.” It goes on to claim that the Neanderthals probably found their “now” weird, as did people in the Middle Ages. Mmuseumm dissects some of that weirdness, putting it on display in an analytical, humorous, thoughtful way.
Mmuseumm opens each spring with a new collection — of small exhibitions related to the weirdness of now. Last year was “season 7.” As it’s essentially outdoors, it makes sense that it shuts down over the colder months.
How do I describe the Mmuseumm’s collection philosophy? I come back to my designated best thing: occlupanids. As I mentioned before, occlupanid is the fancy name for the plastic clip that holds a bread bag closed. Most of us, I wager, have never given them much thought, outside of checking if the rye on the shelf at Fairway is likely to still be good in a week. But occlupanids are a thing. You can organize them, analyze them, create a Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group (HORG) if you want to. It’s weird that these humble things are given a shelf in a museum. But no more weird than their existence in the first place.
Other exhibitions in the “Season 6, 2018” set included:
- A study of standard consumer objects that were somehow deformed – the brochure description for “Nothing is Perfect” starts out “Humanity exists in a state of eror.”
- Strange counterfeit brands that have sprung up in post-economic-collapse Venezuela.
- Unexpected common items that have saved lives, and ones that were causes of death.
- An array of devices people have deployed to fight snoring.
- The security patterns that get printed inside envelopes so you can’t see the checks in them.
In sum, the fall 2018 roster included a mind-boggling fourteen exhibitions. On a thoughts-provoked-per-square-meter basis, Mmuseumm’s little space is quite possibly the densest of any museum in New York.
Among the 150-ish objects on view at the Mmuseumm during my visit was a small shelf space labelled “Nothing.” I appreciate an institution that defies the standard museum philosophy of being full of stuff, in favor of devoting a space (especially one in such a small space to begin with) to emptiness.
Should You Visit the Mmuseumm?
This place confounded me. I was all set to be put off by its archness, its twee, self-satisfied cleverness. And to dismiss Mmuseumm as not really a museum. I did leave pondering whether I’d had a museum experience, or just seen a clever piece of conceptual art, a wry commentary on museum-ology, quite possibly the first meta-museum I’ve visited.
Meta- or not, though, Mmuseumm is a museum. It tries to edify and entertain, and whether it is actually earnest or not, it comes across as on the level. In collecting ephemera, it reminds me of City Reliquery, though with a broader mandate and a much smaller space. I spoke a bit with the docent who was standing by to answer questions (there is also a phone-based audioguide and an awesome, exhaustive brochure), and she was super enthused about the place and its mission.
Also, two-or-so doors down the alley from the Mmuseumm is the even tinier Mmuseumm Rest Stop. I wouldn’t do my Christmas shopping there, but it featured funny and well-curated gifts, souvenirs, and snacks in counterpoint to the items on display.
I strongly recommend a visit to the Mmuseumm, particularly after you’ve been to many (like a couple hundred) more conventional museums. It encapsulates much of what I’ve come to think about what makes a good museum, and a meaningful museumgoing experience.
|4 Cortlandt Alley, Manhattan
|General Admission: $5 donation suggested
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