A few months ago I had the opportunity to interview Alex Kalman, proprietor of Mmuseumm. If you’re not familiar with that: It is a six-foot-by-six-foot space in the ground-floor level of former freight elevator on Cortlandt Alley in Manhattan that Kalman and his colleagues have modified into a space for the public display of unlikely objects. That interview was for The Organist (an audio collaboration between KCRW and The Believer magazine), and you can hear it here.
More recently, Mmuseumm’s latest “season” has just opened, and includes some remarkable new collections. I haven’t visited in person yet – my excuse: I don’t live in New York—but I’m going to endorse it anyway. Kalman has filled me in on some details and provided some images, and it looks to me like Mmuseumm is taking an impressive step forward.
For such a small space, Mmuseumm packs in quite a bit. New collections on display include objects from knockoffs of American fast-food brands from Iran; a number of Trump products; and group of “Personal Items of Immigration,” found in the desert at the Arizona-Mexico border. Down the block, in a separate but similarly modest space, is a remarkable-looking stand-alone display: a “Future Aleppo” model made of wood, paper, and other objects by a 14-year-old Syrian named Mohammed Qutaish, who plans to be an architect some day.
The Organist piece lasts about twelve minutes, which is a good chunk of time, but I spoke to Kalman for something like an hour and a half. In a bit of our conversation that didn’t make the final cut, Kalman described Mmuseumm as showcasing “the contemporary vernacular.” Later, he added: “I think that Mmuseumm in one way is a form of journalism—journalism through actual objects.”
These comments seem useful in considering the new Mmuseumm season, which strikes me as its most “journalistic” to date. I mean that several of the object-groups speak directly to current events. But I do not mean that they do so in some kind of material-culture equivalent to the opportunistic “hot take” style so popular in the media of the moment. While the hot take merely capitalizes on and ricochets off the news wihthout adding much of use, these (and some other) object collections in the new Mmuseumm season do something like the opposite: They both deepen and complicate the current moment. They certainly don’t tell us what to think. But they absolutely do tell us that thinking is what we should do.
Mmuseumm is located at 4 Cortlandt Alley in Manhattan. It’s open Thursday and Friday from 6 to 9 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6pm. Its displays are also accessible 24 hours a day by way of viewing windows and a call-in “audio guide.” Mmuseumm is also on Twitter and Instagram.
Thanks to Alex Kalman, the Organist crew—and also to Laurene Boym, for first telling me about Mmuseumm a few years back.
Eyes open 24/7 pic.twitter.com/3DKOBCICAa— Mmuseumm (@Mmuseumm) April 23, 2016