As the mecca of arts and culture in America, New York has such a high museum count that it'd take more than two months to simply visit one per day. And while the Met, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and MoMA are rites of passage for anyone who's ever step foot in New York, there are only so many times that you can repeat your visits. What's a museum aficionado to do when they're thirsting for something a little more hidden, a little more secret, a little more quirky? We have answers:
4 Cortlandt Alley
Only 20 square feet in size and big enough for three visitors at a time, this tiny space packs a big punch with their curated objets d’art. Filmmakers Alex Kalman and the Safdie brothers started this project as a “modern natural history museum” that specializes in "the overlooked, dismissed, or ignored". Galleries don’t get quirkier than this: notable oddities include a shoe thrown at George W. Bush at as press conference in Baghdad, pieces of cereal, and ISIS Currency. The location itself - a converted freight elevator that’s accessible from a sketchy alleyway - is also an anomaly. Check their Twitter for special performances, which may range from an operetta to a free ice cream truck, to a weightlifter flexing his guns for photo ops.
240 East 26th St
Hidden in what used to be a blacksmith's studio on East 26th St is an underground laser laboratory built decades and decades ago by a lab-coat-clad scientist named Doctor Laser. No, this is no joke - Professor Jason Arthur Sapan really has been making holograms at Holographic Studios since 1979, and he loves to wear his white lab coat all the time. One of the pioneers of the craft and an instructor of Telecommunications at NYU, he founded what is now the world's oldest holography gallery out of his love for the art. Aside from being able to view amazing cylindrical 360° floating images, the laser lab, and funky hologram stickers, you can also ask Doctor Laser what it was like to work with Andy Warhol, Bill Clinton, Isaac Asimov, and the creator of Breaking Bad. Yeah science!
275 Church St
You don’t have to be an avant-garde art scenester to dig this ‘sound and light environment’ created by a group of composers and visual artists - the immersive art experience at The Dream House has been mesmerizing and wowing audiences of all kinds since 1993. Featuring performances from a diverse range of musicians, visitors are invited to pick a favorite pillow or soft spot on the rug and simply let the shifting lights and sounds transport you to a different plane.
424-A 3rd Ave
With the rather poetic mission of "exploring the intersections of death, beauty, and that which falls between the cracks," the Morbid Anatomy Museum is a Kickstarter-funded cabinet of macabre curiosities. Although a quick browse, their collection of strange animal taxidermy, unusual skulls, and 100-year-old preserved wax models are a dream-come-true for photographers and fans of the dark side. Make sure to visit one of their many in-house events, whether it's a flea market (antique human teeth for $4!), a fascinating talk with a funeral director, or a musical evening in their cafe and book room.
318 Maujer St
Christopher Brosius hates perfume. As implied in the name of his gallery and store, “people who smell like everyone else disgust me”. What he does love, however, is being a perfumer who encourages the exploration and experience of scent. With 300 - 400 accords (or single fragrance notes) on display, his simple space invites visitors to browse, learn, and even create custom blended perfumes that reflect your individual memories (think: drinking coffee in a library of old books, the smell of the sea… or even the smell of money?). Whoever knew a gallery designed for your nose could be as beautiful as one designed for your eyes?
141 Wooster St
Why would somebody dump 250 cubic yards of moist dirt in an empty apartment? Why would they keep it up it for 36 years? Why would anyone go see a room full of dirt? We don’t have the answers to these questions, but admission is free - and one reviewer on Yelp said that it “smells great, and is exactly the reprieve you need when walking around SOHO” - so why not? After finding the nondescript building , visitors can buzz in to loft 2B and take a long flight of stairs up to the actual gallery space, where a museum attendant is able to answer any questions you may have. And you will probably have a lot of questions. Bonus point: The Broken Kilometer by the same artist Walter De Maria (who passed away in 2013) is not far away at 393 W Broadway.
343 East 99th St
This "museum" by NYC Sanitation Department employee Nelson Molina is the ultimate manifestation of the idiom "One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Curated from the throw-aways of Upper East Side citizens, Molina and his crew have been slowly salvaging junk for over thirty years and categorizing them on the second floor of their warehouse. It houses about 50,000 pieces of found objects (including a shelf full of Furbies and beautifully preserved photo albums), all estimated to be worth a cool $160,000. While the property belongs to the Sanitation Department and can't legally be open to the public on a regular basis, you can get in touch with the city to request access - or make friends and try your luck with a local sanitation worker.
122 Chambers St
Established in 1973, the Tribeca storefront-slash-gallery (which officially goes by the name of Philip Williams Posters) houses a few thousand posters, out of long-time collector Philip Williams’ inventory of 500,000. Looking for nostalgic travel maps or an original print of Andy Warhol’s Chanel No.5? You’ll find all those - and more. And the best part is that you can take a piece of art home with you for a very reasonable price.
150 West 17th St
While the building itself may not be physically hidden (in fact it's quite an impressive space), the RMA is a lesser-known museum with a collection that's on-par with the other major gallery heavyweights. The exhibitions focus on Himalayan culture and are known for being very well curated, well-rounded and authentic. Note that their K2 Friday night events are guaranteed to be packed, but the amazing live DJ sets and pan-Asian tapas in the Cafe Serai upstairs are totally worth it.
2 Columbus Cir
Another museum that is only hidden in terms of being a 'hidden gem', this 6-storey beauty right on the southwestern corner of Central Park is a local favorite. First opening its doors in 1956 as The Museum of Contemporary Crafts, it has since evolved into a space for the convergence of art and industry featuring work from famed contemporary artists. Hint: make sure to visit on a Thursday evening for the special admission prices, and take advantage of the funky Robert Restaurant on the top floor.