Art & Design
5:02 pm
Thu January 2, 2014

Tiny Museum Preserves Proof Of Creators' Crazy Stories

Originally published on Thu January 2, 2014 6:38 pm

Imagine a museum that's only 6 square feet. It's called, simply, Museum and it's housed in an old elevator shaft in an alley near New York City's courts. It has some odd exhibits on 18 small shelves, and only about four people can fit into the space at a time.

The museum was created by three filmmakers: Alex Kalman and brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. Josh Safdie says the idea grew out of a combination of frustration and storytelling. The filmmakers would tell each other amazing tales of what they had seen and found, and the others would want proof. He gives one example:

"So we would be like, 'I saw these fake Sharpies and they are called Shupays.' And it was like, 'No you didn't.' ... So we started this collection of stuff."

Those Sharpies are in the museum — bootlegs, apparently, from China. Safdie says you can buy 40 of them for $1 and "they dry out really quickly and they are terrible, but each design is a slight riff on the word Sharpie."

Charnelle and Darryn King are visiting from Sydney. They read about the museum in Time Out and decided to check it out. Charnelle loves "little pop-up stuff" but says, "I'm still trying to figure out what's going on."

Darryn, her husband, loves the display of fake vomit from around the world. It has a certain Jackson Pollock quality. "Saying it's interesting just scrapes the surface," he says. "It's very enlightening."

There's a number you can call to find out about each object. Most of the descriptions are serious, but Peter Allen, who collected the fake vomit, is clearly having a bit of fun at the art world's expense.

"This subtle palate of primarily beige tones intercedes with robust fragments of dimensional inner meaning; the delicate hints of animal projects are not overwhelmed by the soothing, soft, vegan-based composition," he says of one piece in the vomit exhibit.

Another shelf has bulletproof backpacks, a product that came out after some of the school shootings. They're all in pinks and pastels with Disney-like characters. They say things like "Blast off!" or "I believe in fairy tales" or "Nice day for flying" or "Up in the clouds." It's fairly creepy.

There are three shelves devoted to the late Al Goldstein, editor of Screw magazine, including a pair of his gold Air Jordans, size 13.

There's a shelf devoted to prison contraband, including carved soaps with racist slogans and a tiny pair of dice (easy to hide) molded from bread with the dots done in felt pen.

And then there's a shoe. The museum says it's the one that was thrown at President George Bush by an Iraqi journalist during a 2008 visit to Iraq. Most descriptions say the shoe was destroyed.

"We promised we would never say who they were and where we got it from," Safdie says. "And we were told it was the shoe that was thrown at George Bush and as much as we can believe it, you can believe it. That's what it is."

It's one of their biggest attractions, he says, but it's just a shoe.

The museum is only open on weekends, but you can look through a window on other days — if you can find it.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

With almost 52 million tourists in New York City each year, museums are crowded. This week, there have been lines around the block to see the "Girl with the Pearl Earring" at the Frick. But there is no room for that kind of mob where NPR's Margot Adler is taking us now. It's a much smaller museum, the city's tiniest.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Imagine a museum that's only six feet square. It's simply called Museum and it's housed in an old elevator shaft in an alley not far from the city's courts. It has some odd exhibits on 18 small shelves.

Only about four people at a time can fit into the space. It was created by three filmmakers: two brothers, Josh and Benny Safdie, and Alex Kalman. Josh Safdie says the idea grew out of frustration and storytelling. The three filmmakers would tell amazing tales to each other of what they had seen and found in the city, and the others would say, no way, and want proof.

JOSH SAFDIE: So you'd be like, I saw these fake Sharpies and it was called Shupay(ph). And, you know, it was like, no, you didn't. I was like, actually, I brought one just for you. So we started to develop this kind of collection of stuff.

ADLER: And those Sharpies are in the museum, bootleg apparently from China.

SAFDIE: You can buy them, you know, for like 40 for a dollar, essentially. And they dry out really quickly, and they are terrible. But each design is a slight riff on the word Sharpie.

ADLER: All the exhibits document the odd and delightful of modern life. Charnelle, Darryn and Laura King, a husband, wife and sister from Sydney, Australia, come by. They read about the museum in Time Out.

CHARNELLE KING: I love little pop-up stuff, so I'm still trying to figure out what's going on, actually.

DARRYN KING: The display of vomit from all around the world is quite interesting. It's very enlightening.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: It's really cool. It's very small and hard to find.

(LAUGHTER)

ADLER: Yes, he did say a display of vomit from around the world. It's actually fake vomit and many of the examples have a certain Jackson Pollock quality. There's a number you can call to find out about each object.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome to Museum. Please enter the object's reference number at any time.

ADLER: Most of the descriptions are serious but Peter Allen, who collected the fake vomit, is clearly having a bit of fun at the art world's expense.

PETER ALLEN: This subtle palate of primarily beige tones intercedes with robust fragments of dimensional inner meaning. The delicate hints of animal products are not overwhelmed by the soothing, soft, vegan-based composition.

ADLER: Another shelf has bulletproof backpacks, which came out after some of the school shootings. They are all in pastels and pinks with Disney-like characters.

SAFDIE: And they say things like blast off, or I believe in fairy tales, or nice day for flying or up in the clouds.

ADLER: It's fairly creepy. There are three shelves devoted to the late Al Goldstein, editor of Screw magazine. There's a pair of his gold Air Jordans, size 13. There's a shelf devoted to prison contraband, including carved soaps with racist slogans and a tiny, tiny pair of dice. They are molded from bread with the dots done in felt pen, easy to hide in a cell or even in your mouth. And then there's this shoe that the museum says was thrown at George Bush in Iraq in 2008 by an Iraqi journalist. Most reports say the shoe was destroyed, but Safdie won't give its provenance.

SAFDIE: We promised that we would never say who they were and where we got it from, and we were told that it's the shoe that was thrown at George Bush. And, you know, as much as we can believe it, you can believe it. I mean, that's what it is.

ADLER: It's one of their biggest attractions, he says, but it's just a shoe. Lily Ash walks in. She's an artist. She says the space is tiny, and you wouldn't think it had much in it.

LILY ASH: There's so much stuff and it's all really interesting to look at and weird.

ADLER: The Museum is only open on weekends, although you can look through a window on other days. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.