Art

The Ten Strangest Museums in New York City

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Let’s be real: February in New York leaves much to be desired. It’s cold, it’s gray, and it’s snowy. It’s a time to hide from the world in a museum. But while classics like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters, and the Guggenheim are great, you’re not limited to them. In fact, New York City has more than 115 museums.

That’s right: You don’t have to keep visiting the Museum of Natural History over and over again, hoping this time to see Neil deGrasse Tyson so that you two can finally fall in love (not that, you know, there’s anything wrong with that).

You can go somewhere else. But where? To answer this question, the VIllage Voice interviewed Allison Amend about the ten strangest museums in New York. Amend is qualified, too: She’s the writer behind This Is a Really Serious Piece, which chronicled her every visit to every museum in New York, a tour she completed in 2013.

10. The New York City Transit Museum
Boerum Place, Brooklyn

“You can pretend to drive a bus, which was fun for my friend, because he doesn’t know how to drive. It has a lot of old subway cars. And it’s in an old subway tunnel. The third rail [the electric rail that maintains the power by which subway cars travel] is still live — which adds an element of danger that other museums don’t have.”

This is the largest museum in the United States devoted to urban public transportation history.

9. The High Line
West 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue to Gansevoort Street, Manhattan

“It’s not a museum, but it fills all the criteria of a museum. Just like the MOMA has modern art, the High Line has High Line art. The art is constantly changing. And if you consider the plants as part of the installation, they make for a changing, interactive art exhibit.”

The elevated, 1.45-mile-long New York City park was built on a former elevated railway line. You can’t huddle very easily here, but you can walk quickly to stay warm. It won’t be nearly as crowded as during the height of the tourism season, either.

8. The New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th Street, Corona, Queens

“First of all, the exhibits worked for the most part. Which is not true for all the children’s museums we went to. It was very interactive in a way that was fun even for adults.

“It didn’t feel germy. It felt like the surfaces were bigger [than other children’s museums] and more spread out. It didn’t feel like everybody was touching the exact same button.

“And it had a mini-golf course! We couldn’t do it…it was too hot.”

In a past life, the New York Hall of Science was formerly the pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair.

7. The Girl Scout Museum
National Historic Preservation Center, 420 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

“They were overjoyed to see us…It was slightly underwhelming as a museum. But there were free cookies.”

This museum of Girl Scout history includes over 60,000 photographs and 650 Girl Scout uniforms.

6. SculptureCenter
44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City, Queens

“I’m a huge fan of movie installations and I think that’s because I like to sit down. There were these somewhat fascinating short films that made absolutely no sense. The SculptureCenter…is a huge converted factory with nothing in it. And in the basement, there’s a place to hide the bodies, basically [laughs], and there was the film installation.

“It was a little odd, I’m not going to lie.”

Originally called “The Clay Club,” SculptureCenter was founded by artists to support contemporary sculpture in 1928, according to its website.

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5. The Derfner Judaica Museum at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale
5901 Palisade Avenue, Bronx

“It’s inside an old folks’ home. They really had a pretty good exhibit of Judaica through the ages. And it was very nicely displayed — I was pleasantly surprised.

“One thing I was surprised by with this project was everywhere we went, we were never the only people [visiting the museums]. It speaks to the curiosity of people in this city…if you build it, they will come.”

The Derfner Judaica Museum comprises more than 1,400 Jewish ceremonial objects. The Hebrew Home at Riverdale — the seniors’ home in which the Derfner is housed — is a member of the American Alliance of Museums.

4. Museum of Biblical Art
1865 Broadway at 61st Street, Manhattan

“It’s near Lincoln Center. My friends who went with me are a couple, and then there’s me. And so the guard there made some joke about a threesome? At the Bible museum. That was weird.”

3. Fischer Landau Center for Art
38-27 30th Street, Long Island City, Queens

“This is a fantastic modern arts museum. It’s the private collection of Ms. Fischer Landau [an influential patron of the arts in New York City who bought works by many now-famous artists when they were still starting their careers]. She has Rothko, she has Andy Warhol, she has everything.”

This 25,000 square-foot contemporary art museum is housed in a former parachute harness factory.

2. The Noguchi Museum
9-01 33rd Road (at Vernon Boulevard), Long Island City, Queens

“You can see the spaces he designed. There’s a courtyard…You just want to curl up next to these sculptures.”

Isamu Noguchi founded the Noguchi Garden Museum in 1985 in Long Island City. Considered to be one of the sculptor’s great works in its own right, the museum and garden paved the way for Long Island City to become a local arts district.

1. Torah Animal World
1603 41st Street, Brooklyn

“Hands down the weirdest museum is Torah Animal World. It’s in [a Hasidic rabbi’s] house. All the animals that are in the Old Testament, in taxidermy form, are dumped in this guy’s living rooms. There’s a saber-toothed tiger next to the top half of a giraffe…next to a snakeskin belt.”

Despite fears in early 2014 that Torah Animal World was set to close due to a lack of funds, the museum is still going strong. Visits are by appointment only.

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