Under The Radar Museums of New York | The Roxy Hotel
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Under The Radar Museums Of New York

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Ten must-visit cultural institutions to add to your itinerary—from a hidden gem displaying historical artifacts of the NYC Subway to the house where jazz legend Louis Armstrong lived.

Forget the Met, Whitney, New Museum, and MoMA… actually, that’s impossible and ill-advised, but how about putting those iconic, world-famous museums aside for a day or two to consider some of NYC’s oft-overlooked cultural institutions? 

These range from hidden gems devoted to a singular theme/discipline, region, artist/performer, neighborhood, and even animal—keep reading, we’ll get to it!—to only-in-NYC local culture-centric (e.g. The Museum of Broadway, which we didn’t include here). Located across NYC, Brooklyn, and Queens, here are ten musts. 

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Corona, Queens is the former home to the late jazz and trumpet legend Louis Armstrong, whose historic house opened to public tours in 2003. July 6th saw a brand new, state-of-the-art addition, the Louis Armstrong Center, located just across the street. Costing $26 million, Caples Jefferson Architects’ sleekly designed, 14,000 square-foot building contains the massive 60,000 items Louis Armstrong Collection, plus a 75-seat venue for performances, lectures, and other live events. The inaugural Center exhibition “Here To Stay” delves into Armstrong’s trailblazing half-century career, and visitors can opt for both a house tour and “Here to Stay” ($20 adults), or just the latter ($10). Open Thurs-Sun. 

34-56 107th St., Queens

El Museo del Barrio

Founded in 1969 by Brooklyn-born artist and educator Raphael Montañez Ortiz in response to mainstream museums’ lack of Latino representation – especially Puerto Rican, of which NYC boasts a significant population—East Harlem’s El Museo now possesses a collection of over 8,500 objects. Recent exhibitions spotlight contemporary Latinx intersectionality, including the expansive 500-work “Something Beautiful: Reframing La Colección,” which includes newly commissioned art and installations (runs through March 10, 2024, although some gallery spaces are currently closed).

1230 5th Ave.

Museum of the Moving Image

Celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary, MoMI – occupying a former movie studio complex in Astoria, Queens – boasts gallery spaces dedicated to all aspects of motion pictures and the moving image, plus screenings of new and repertory titles in two theaters (267 and 68 seats, respectively). The ongoing Jim Henson-related exhibitions are especially cool, with genuine The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street muppets and props/paraphernalia, while temporary highlights include those dedicated to filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu bringing Emmett Till’s story to screen with 2022’s Till, and Sarah Polley’s process for adapting Women Talking (both through Sept. 17, 2023), plus late Spanish filmmaker and inventor Jose Val Del Omar’s multisensory installations alongside newly commissioned pieces by contemporary artists (through October 1, 2023). 

36-01 35th Ave., Queens

New York Transit Museum

NYC loves its public transportation, and this downtown Brooklyn museum located within a decommissioned 1930s subway station celebrates its ever-changing modes, with vintage subway cars dating back to the 1908 Exhibition “No Spitting On The Platform,” based around etiquette campaigns, is cheekily delightful, but if Brooklyn’s out of your way, Grand Central Station’s satellite gallery and store is free and convenient! Must-have merch includes shirts, hats, magnets and stuffed animals bearing the subway lines’ distinct only-in-NY icons.

99 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn

Rubin Museum of Art

Obsessed with Himalayan art, collectors Shelley and Donald Rubin’s namesake museum, opened within Barney’s department store’s former Chelsea home in 2004, is largely dedicated to work from that region. Night owls, cocktail fans, and bargain hunters take note that the weekly K2 Friday Nights offer free admission between 6-10pm for the galleries, public tours (at 7.15pm), and DJ sets and drinks in the K2 Lounge… but snatch those advance tickets online as soon as they’re available (the 15th of each month) if possible to not risk being turned away!

150 W. 17th St.

AKC Museum of the Dog

Just a couple of blocks south of Grand Central Station off Park Avenue, discreetly tucked into the side of Kalikow skyscraper (which, fun fact, served as a key location in 1980s cult classic Gremlins 2), this two-level hidden gem – relocated from West St. Louis County, MO in 2017 – celebrates canines and their significant role in society (e.g. the heroic Yorkie Doodle Dandy!). Items from the American Kennel Club’s 1,700-plus piece collection and 4,000-volume library fill out a rotating series of exhibitions, including two on the topic of dog collars and restraints through early September 2023, plus tech-forward interactive experiences for all ages including a virtual training session. Would-be fur parents can use the interactive “find your match” to see which breed makes an ideal (and lookalike!) companion.

101 Park Ave.

The Jewish Museum

Celebrating its 120th birthday in 2024, this art museum, the first of its kind in the USA, has covered a wide range of disciplines, artists (e.g musician Leonard Cohen) and historical eras (4,000 years’ worth, specifically) in its 30,000 item collection and permanent and temporary exhibitions. About 450 works from the former are currently on display,  while Fall will see the fashionista delight “Mood of the Moment: Gaby Aghion and the House of Chloe,” a first museum exhibition devoted to the famed French fashion house and its Jewish founder (October 13, 2023-February 18, 2024), and retrospective of Argentina-born, Jewish-Russian artist Marta Minujin, “Arte! Arte! Arte!” (November 17, 2023-March 31, 2024). The Museum is also a co-presenter of January’s annual New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center.  

1109 5th Ave. at 92nd St.

 

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Leslie-Lohman Museum

Founded in 1969 by collectors and life partners Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman in their Soho loft space, this is the world’s only art museum dedicated to LGBTQIA+ works. With holdings of over 30,000 items from across three centuries, Leslie-Lohman presents a series of ever-changing exhibitions in its multiple spaces—2022 saw them receive a $3.6 million city grant that will fund a renovation and addition of a research library and public archive—as well as the exterior facade. September 22, 2023, to January 7, 2024, will see “Christian Walker: The Profane and the Poignant,” a first museum survey of works by the Black, gay photographer/artist/critic’s work. Admission to Leslie-Lohman is free, with a $10 suggested donation.

26 Wooster St.

New York Historical Society Museum & Library

Did you know NYC has its own Liberty Bell? Cast in 1731 and weighing 900 pounds, it’s helped ring in events ranging from the 1776 reading of the Declaration of Independence to presidential inaugurations to the anniversaries of 9/11, but when the Middle Collegiate Church was destroyed in a late 2020 fire, it survived and relocated here. Besides many incredible historic items like a recreation of the White House Oval Office you can pose for photos in, and 100 glowing Tiffany lamps, expect superb temporary NYC-centric exhibitions. Alas, you missed one dedicated to Jewish delicatessen culture (it ended in April 2023), but “Women’s Work,” exploring the myriad ways females have had a critical hand in society and politics, runs through summer 2024.

170 Central Park West.

 

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The Museum at FIT

Part of Chelsea’s The Fashion Institute of Technology, this Museum presents a stunning series of temporary exhibitions drawn from its collection of 50,000 garments and accessories, plus thesis and graduating student displays. Themes and designers have been on par, albeit smaller scale with free admission to boot, than what one waits in snaking lines for at The Met. To wit, 2016’s “Fairy Tale Fashion” with children’s lit inspired work by McQueen, Dolce and Gabbana, and Prada; “Lauren Bacall: The Look,” raiding the actress’ spectacular designer closets; and now through November 12, 2023, “¡Moda Hoy! Latin American and Latinx Fashion Design Today” with 60+ objects by Latin American/Hispanic/Latinx designers. 

227 W. 27th St.

WORDS Lawrence Ferber 

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