Blink and you’ll miss it—two doors thrust open in one of downtown New York’s now uncommon alleys. Inside, objects are neatly on display: from perfume bottles to fast food containers from Iran. Once a former shaftway for a freight elevator, the one-room Mmuseumm 1 (its sister space on the same block, Mmuseumm 2, uses the unused back area of a Broadway-facing store) prompts ideas about the use of precious space in cities, and how museums exist and function in cities. Though Mmuseumm probably could only fit five people max, it even has a “cafe/gift shop” (a Nespresso machine serves coffee in Lavazza cups). Yet it has a pressingly different mission than the big name art collections New York is famed for.
“This is an exploration of the language of museums,” says founder Alex Kalman (a CH25 honoree), “using the format of ‘museum’ and then playing within that to provide a new type of museum experience.”
“What we’re doing curatorially, we’re looking at the current world we’re living in through objects from cultures around the world,” he says. “I consider this a form of journalism. Rather than text or photo or video, it’s object-based journalism.” With each season changing annually (currently in its fifth), Mmuseumm in a way functions like a physical magazine about our world—one big, annual issue with a very international point of view. In fact, any of the 15 different exhibitions within Mmuseumm would make a fascinating mini-documentary, as they check off all the requirements that social media rewards: weird, informative and relevant to us right now.
Each shelf covers a different “story” and has a red sign giving some quick context; however Kalman recommends using your cell phone to call in, type in the object’s reference number and listen to the narrative (there’s also a pamphlet with all the descriptions written out). “Donald Trump: The Message is the Medium” (on loan from the collection of Max Abelson) displays branded items from America’s most infamous man of the moment, hoping to help viewers understand “what kind of man is Donald Trump?” As the presidential candidate seems to rebrand his ideology with every new tweet, this is an opportunity to remember his backstory and history. There’s an energy drink he sold only in Israel and Palestine, “Success by Trump” cologne, a computer game emulating the card games at his New Jersey resort Trump’s Castle, wetnaps from the now defunct Trump Shuttles airline, to name just a few. We certainly learned something from the wetnaps: Mmuseumm’s audio description notes that in 1987, Trump wrote, “One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands, and the more successful and famous one becomes the worse this terrible custom seems to get. I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.”
“None of this is art,” says Kalman. “Nothing here is an artist saying, ‘I’m interpreting something and giving you my interpretation.’ This is more raw and authentic materials coming from the narratives that we’re thinking about, dealing with. You’re accessing something more honest and intimate rather than a representation.” Some of the other fascinating exhibitions includes ISIS’ gold currency (how the terrorist organization is trying to establish its legitimacy), “Not Bombs: Suspicious Items” (a replica of reported objects that were in fact, not bombs, like a stuffed toy pony and a watermelon in a plastic shopping bag), “Lineage of the Body Bottle,” “The Fake American Fast Food Franchises of Iran” and “The Last Message Received: Final Texts” (print-outs from the Tumblr account). You’ll notice that there’s even one noticeably empty shelf. That’s “Nothing: Which of Course is More than Nothing” which gets philosophical about the quantum mechanics concept of space-time foam. If the internet is supposed to make us feel more connected with others and the world, Mmuseumm does something similar, more effectively with these strange collections of objects.
Mmuseumm‘s doors are open Thursday through Sunday during limited hours; however, there are cut-outs so you can peek inside any time.
Images by Nara Shin