I recently read an article in Slate where Felix Salmon expressed concern that “blockbuster shows are ruining art museums”. Basically, he asserts that these big tent events are often a drag on sometimes woefully underfunded museum and gallery budgets or that they devour resources that would otherwise go to smaller installations and lesser known artists, all the while conditioning audiences to expect bigger and bigger spectacles. It’s a high that simply can’t be sustained. Lynn perfectly conveyed this sentiment when she talked about her underwhelming experience with Huma Bhabha’s Met Rooftop installation in a recent Mad Chatter post. It begs the question: in the age of blockbusters, is there still room for the museum and gallery equivalent of the shoestring budget indie film?
Not only do we believe there is plenty of room, but the experience can be even more meaningful. Take, for instance, our recent visit to The Museum of Interesting Things.
What is it?
The first thing you should know is that the Museum of Interesting Things isn’t a museum in the traditional sense. The whole story centers around Denny Daniel, the P.T. Barnum of the whole affair (with a bowler hat instead of a top hat). Serving on a number of prominent historical and artistic boards, Denny is also a collector, a curator, a filmmaker, a restorer, and the presentation’s MC. In fact, much of what you will see at this loosely termed “museum” is from his own collection. And unlike traditional museums, you’re not just allowed–but encouraged–to touch the exhibits. (Just don’t dismantle them. And yes, this has happened.)
Where is it?
Anywhere! The Museum of Interesting Things comes to you. Denny can tailor a presentation to suit any need. Are you teaching about the Suffragettes? Are you holding a Gilded Age themed party? Denny will serve up something to blow your minds. What if you don’t need a customized presentation? Not to worry! Denny holds a monthly “speakeasy” event based on a curated theme. The particularly timely theme on our visit was Doomsday! (Yes, I questioned his enthusiastic and ironic use of the exclamation mark, too.)
What can you expect?
The speakeasy often takes place in a SoHo loft (but always check the website for last-minute location changes–it’s a secret speakeasy, after all!). As soon as you roll in you’ll find card tables covered in curiosities tied to the theme. There is a makeshift stage from which Denny conducts presentations and interactive demonstrations, as he spouts off fun historical facts. But the whole affair is terribly casual, with activities ranging from unboxing (where the participants are invited to tear open mail packages to reveal Denny’s newest acquisitions) to watching original 16mm film. There are periods in between where The Clash and David Bowie fill the room. And there’s pasta. At some point in the evening, everyone gets a small bowl of pasta. Quirky? Yes. Awesome? Also yes.
Even though we visited the website ahead of time, we were completely unprepared for the evening we were in for. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, borne simply of one man’s passion. There are no fireworks, no optical illusions, no magic tricks. (Unless, of course, that’s the night’s theme.)
Then there was the audience, the makeup of which was so diverse it defies description. They readily mixed and matched, stealing away to the corners, crowding the couches, and huddling at the refreshment table to offer expert opinions, posit theories, or impart personal anecdotes between the demonstrations. And maybe that’s the real magic of The Museum of Interesting Things: it’s a place where people from varied backgrounds can come together one night a month to look into the past, understand its place in the present, and wonder what it will all mean in the future.
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Pair it with:
Dinner at Lucky Strike
Lucky Strike, one of the earlier ventures of the famous restaurateur, Keith McNally, is the low-key, old school, once fashionable, neighborhood French bistro everyone sort of forgot about, but really needs to remember. Opened before fans lauded him as “the restaurateur who invented downtown”, Lucky Strike was quite the hotspot in its day. It’s still an incredibly enjoyable dining experience, but now it attracts a more mellow, local crowd. There’s always a vibe, a certain kind of lighting, a bit of brassiness, and a lot of mirrors in a McNally joint, and Lucky Strike reflects this aesthetic in spades. It’s the kind of place you just want to hang out in, not dine and dash to that next locale. And it’s open late, perfect for that post-adventure meal. So order up some mussels or Steak Frites and let the excitement from the evening carry you late into the night. Perhaps this is why the city never sleeps.
59 Grand St