Children’s Museum of the Arts

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 140 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned “Home Decoration Confusion,” by Ellen Harvey.  A spare modernist dollhouse crammed with fancy wallpapers and chandeliers and such, from the ornamentation exhibit. 

Children's Museum of the Arts, Manhattan

Children's Museum of the Arts, ManhattanThe Children’s Museum of the Arts is my first review of a New York children’s museum. While I like to think I’m unusually immature for my age, I feel I should have an actual member of the intended audience help calibrate my impressions of these places. And so I enlisted the aid of an eight-year-old friend, whom I’ll call “Zed,” and his mom, who kindly visited with me.  Thanks!

Located near Tribeca, the Children’s Museum of the Arts consists of a set of activity spaces arranged around a central open area. Kids have a wide choice of art projects, some of which require signing up in advance, others you can just walk in and do. On the day we visited the art options included:

  • Making miniature clay figures
  • Fun with sound and audio recording
  • Bending wire into words or shapes and then making prints from it
  • Painting wintry scenes
  • Creating stop-motion animation

Helpers for all the activities we did were terrific — patient and engaged and full of fun and helpful ideas when needed.

Children's Museum of the Arts, Manhattan
The Popular Clay Bar

In addition, there’s a specialized studio just for very young folks, where kids and their caregivers can collaborate.

The museum also has a neat mezzanine space with big windows onto the lobby and facing outside, filled with giant blue foam blocks of all shapes and sizes, where kids can build and destroy and generally rampage to their hearts’ content. I didn’t get the purpose of that at first, except to ensure the mixing of kid germs as much as possible.

Children's Museum of the Arts, Manhattan
Blocky Chaos

However, Zed observed that he found it valuable. After concentrating on making a lengthy stop-motion video, he needed a place to blow off some steam before he was ready to engage in something else that required focus. So, good job on the museum to have thought of that. However, Zed also pointed out that he thought some kids would spend their whole visit just playing in there, not doing any of the art stuff.

Children's Museum of the Arts, Manhattan
Space for a Time Out

And finally there are some private rooms where you can book art parties, as well as a “quiet room” with a few picture books, presumably for time outs.

Ornaments (Not the Christmas Kind)

Ornament is Crime, Children's Museum of the ArtsThis place is primarily an activity center; I’m almost a little skeptical of calling it a “museum.” But it does have some art installations. Indeed, the open connector space between the various activity studios housed an exhibit on called “Ornamentation and Other Refrigerator Magnets” by Ellen Harvey. I found it quite clever, although I think it’s a little more to a grown-up’s taste than a kid’s. For example, there’s a witty display of books riffing on modernist architect Adolph Loos’s lecture on “ornament and crime,” perched on the fanciest shelves imaginable.

Children's Museum of the Arts, ManhattanI’d wager that most kids who visit this place don’t give the art a look at all.  But engaging a kid in a conversation about stuff that’s fancy versus stripped down, and why some things are very decorated versus not so much, probably works well. It’s straightforward, and most kids will have some experience of that contrast, and possibly even an opinion about it.

Moreover, I respect the museum for (a) placing the wall texts down at kid-eye-level, (b) not oversimplifying the descriptions too much while (c) including a mini-glossary with each wall caption. Terms explained on various wall texts included “dictator,” “chic,” “hermitage,” “naturalistic,” and “stylized.” It was really well done, and again demonstrates the Children’s Museum curators considering their audience.

Another art installation featured a hallway full of flowers and plants and other organic forms all cut out of denim by British artist Ian Berry. I’m not sure I get it; why denim? But it was rather pretty just the same.

Children's Museum of the Arts, Manhattan
Denim Art

A Zed’s Eye View of the Children’s Museum of the Arts

Zed and I discussed his impression of the museum afterwards. He really liked it, and said he both learned stuff (like how tedious it is to make a stop-motion animation) and had fun (particularly in the room of soft bricks).

Zed made several things, including a pastel drawing of a “spider-mobile.” I would’ve thought that as a New Yorker Spider-Man would just take a Lyft or Via where he needs to go, or the subway. But Zed disagrees.  He singled out the art studio as his favorite part, because he liked having a broad choice of materials to work with, and the freedom to create what he wanted to create.

Spider Mobile
“Zed,” “Spider-Mobile Worldwide,” 2018, pastel on paper

His one caveat in terms of recommending the place was that he thought it best for “friends who don’t act like they have ADHD.” An interesting (and deliberate) choice of phrasing, but it conveys his point, and I agree. The CMA demands some focus and concentration from its young visitors, so those who are challenged by that may not find it fun. For most kids, though, it’s a good place to spend an afternoon experimenting with different artistic types and techniques.

I made about 5 seconds of this video (the bit starting at 0:35):

One final note: the Children’s Museum of the Arts lacks a cafe — be sure to bring some juice boxes or a snack or something. Alternately, if your kid, like Zed, is both sufficiently mature and obsessed with cars, there’s a very nearby Joe Coffee located inside the Cadillac showroom. So kids (or grown-ups, even) can ogle some extremely fancy cars while enjoying a post-museum snack.

Children's Museum of the Arts, Manhattan

For Reference:

Address 103 Charlton Street, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  $12
Other Relevant Links


Judd Foundation


Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 104 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Donald Judd’s dining table looks exactly like Donald Judd designed a dining table.

Utterly simple wood with chairs that seamlessly, create a box when its 14 chairs were pushed in. It reminded me of one of those wooden cube puzzles where you remove one piece and the whole thing falls apart— symmetric perfection broken.

And it is the exact size of the windows in the huge, open, “eating” level of the building.

In 1968 the artist Donald Judd bought a building in then-dilapidated SoHo. Five stories high, the building was used for light industry — small factories that my guide did not call “sweatshops” but that probably were.  Indeed, to this day some of the floors retain holes that show where an apparel manufacturer bolted down sewing machines.

Donald Judd Foundation

Judd, his wife Julie Finch, and their newborn son Flavin moved into the place, and Judd proceeded to remake the four upstairs floors to his own design. Judd changed floors and ceilings, installed fittings and fixtures, and designed both art and furniture specifically for the place. He also installed art from his friends and fellow SoHo Bohemians. He made the place their home, but he also made their home a work of art. Continue reading “Judd Foundation”

New York City Fire Museum

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 62 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned This incredible 1872 punch bowl and goblets, 36 pieces and 800 ounces worth (that’s 50 pounds!  22.68kg!) of sterling silver.  A gift to Isaac Newton Marks, president of the New Orleans Fireman’s Charitable Association.  It’s hard to see in the picture but the stem of each goblet is a fire fighter.

New York City Fire MuseumThe Fire Museum is like the attic of the New York City Fire Department.  It’s where all the old interesting stuff is, and exploring it is very much like sifting through a collection of fire-related artifacts that someone at some point considered worth keeping. Continue reading “New York City Fire Museum”

Drawing Center

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 46 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Gary Simmons’s “Ghost Reels,” an installation in the stairway featuring the names of black stars of the silent film era, written in the style of a typewriter typeface, and partially blurred or erased, evoking a part of film history that many have forgotten.

The Drawing Center occupies a beautifully designed SoHo space, cast iron Corinthian columns outside, several gallery spaces within.  It’s all very clean and spare and modern.  Imminently Instagrammable, as they say.

They generally have 2-3 shows going at a time, and at least currently each focused on the work of a particular artist.  Continue reading “Drawing Center”

Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 62 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Edward Hochschild’s “Vial Cross” from 1994.  A wooden cross studded with test tubes filled with pills, sand, hair, and bodily fluids.  I don’t think I’ve seen another work of art more eloquently sum up the suffering of the AIDS crisis.

The Leslie-Lohman Museum occupies the newest museum space in the city, having  moved into spiffy new digs in SoHo in just the last two weeks. 

Founded by Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman, longtime collectors of art by LGBTQ artists, the museum has a substantial collection, and will be curating 6-8 shows annually.  Though the space is brand new, the museum and foundation have been around a while, and in fact they’re inaugurating the new location with a survey show, “Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting.”

The two words that leap most quickly to mind when I think about the place are “diversity” and “penises.”  The collection endeavors to cover an impressively diverse array of artists, and many different kinds of people are represented.  But at the same time, really, there were a lot of penises.  A lot.  I should’ve counted them.  But perhaps it’s better that I didn’t.

I’m not entirely sure I get what “LGBTQ art” is.  I mean, I’m not that naive, I get it in the simplest sense.  A bronze torso, like a Greek statue, of an incredibly buff dude with his t-shirt pulled up and jeans open and fallen to this taut, muscular thighs fits the bill.  But many, many gay artists have made art that I wouldn’t necessarily consider gay.  Mapplethorpe’s flowers, Hockney’s landscapes…I don’t think this museum would collect those. Based on the works on display it seems most accurate to say “LGBTQ art” involves some fuzzy triangulation between artist, subject matter, and intended audience to count. 

The new space for the museum is mostly terrific.  You enter into a fairly narrow area where two greeters welcome you and point out what’s on. There are two gallery spaces, a smaller one to the left as you walk in , and a larger one to the right and back. There’s also a kitchen space as well. I am torn between thinking it’s charming that there’s a kitchen right sort of in the open, and thinking their architect really should’ve found a way to separate that from the public space.

Kitchen notwithstanding, it’s an airy, pleasant space with the requisite good lighting and beautiful wood floors.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the museum uses it over time.

The inaugural show is sort of a hodge-podge.  I get that survey shows do that, and I would be disappointed if they’d segregated the gay art over here, the lesbian art over there, etc.  Sorting by chronology or medium can  oversimplify, too.  But I would’ve appreciated some effort to put a lens on the collection.  Love versus sex.  Ideals of beauty.  Something.

Should you go?  It depends on how you feel about diversity and penises.  And maybe, even if you are squeamish about either of those two things, you should consider going anyway.  It might be good for you.

For Reference:

Address 26 Wooster Street, Manhattan
Cost Free


New York Earth Room

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 18 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A large room full of dirt

In 1977 Walter De Maria constructed the New York Earth Room, a site-specific artwork commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation.  De Maria took a second floor space in a typical SoHo building on Wooster Street and filled it, throughout, with 250 cubic yards of earth.  That’s a 22-inch depth of material across the whole space.  280,000 pounds of art!

And if you know where to go, on days when it’s open, you ring a bell and get buzzed in and walk up to the second floor to see a large room full of dirt.

Continue reading “New York Earth Room”