Cover a Lot of Ground at New York City’s Smallest Mmuseumm

Emma Li
Two visitors peek inside Mmuseumm, located on Cortlandt Alley. Even when the museum is closed, visitors can call a toll-free number to hear about the objects, or look inside the building’s windows. (Photo by Katie Peurrung)

Despite rainy, wintery weather, a line of visitors nearly three times the length of the building juts out from Mmuseumm, a 20-square-foot gift shop and contemporary natural history museum that opened in 2015.

Although museum docent Kate Athol believes that Mmuseumm was named as such to avoid issues regarding naming rights, she likes to share that the “mm” stands for “millimeter” to represent the museum’s small space. According to Athol, founder Alex Kalman has a studio upstairs and believed the elevator would be a chance to explore different types of spaces for exhibiting his objects.

“[The museum is] about telling different narratives through objects… and depict[s] the whole scope of events that people don’t normally consider,” Lyndsey Walsh, an employee and 2016 Gallatin graduate, said.

She pointed out communion-on-the-go being sold at the shop for $2, which corresponds to one of the current exhibitions. Titled Modern Religion, the exhibit showcases tokens from different religious practices — including a gluten-free Holy Communion wafer — that have been reimagined in order to appeal to a modern audience.

Despite its limited capacity, Mmuseumm packs a substantial number of objects onto layered shelves that wrap around three walls of the space. Every layer on each side corresponds to a single exhibition, which means a single sweep of the eyes can cover the Modern Religion exhibit. Two to three individuals are ushered in once the same number of people exit. In order to accommodate more visitors, the rotation is occasionally sped up when visitors browse for too long or when the line grows even longer.

However, Walsh is surprised by the lack of NYU students she has met.

“Not many NYU students visit, considering how Lafayette [Residence Hall] is nearby,” Walsh said.

Last week, Open House New York — a nonprofit organization offering access to the city’s urban design and architecture — hosted an opening weekend that included access to the Mmuseumm. OHNY drew in enthusiastic visitors warmly welcomed by Athol, who was dressed in a bright red suit.

“There’s kind of a mix evenly across the board of people who live here, commute and stop by and people who come here specifically to visit,” Athol said.

OHNY volunteers were also present, checking in individuals who were visiting through the organization. One of the volunteers, Heather Chait, shared how she became involved.

“I wanted to give back [to the organization], so this time, I decided to come with a friend,” Chait said. “We’re volunteering together… It’s my first time here, but I live in the area.”

At the end of Cortlandt Alley in Lower Manhattan, an old freight elevator is home to Mmuseumm’s eclectic collection of objects — a museum that’s the smallest of its kind in New York City.

Email Emma Li at [email protected]

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