Underground Art
Alice Austen House Museum on Staten Island

8 NYC Museums You’ve Never Heard Of

Eight museums that even locals don't know about, from an 80-square-foot museum in a Manhattan elevator shaft to a replica Tibetan monastery set on a Staten Island hill

New York City has some of the world’s most famous museums, housing breathtaking works of art from the scene’s biggest names. But the city does small just as well as it does big, an axiom that’s as true in our museums as in our apartments. So, take a left turn from the usual Museum Mile and venture outside to museums you won’t find in any guidebook — whether it’s a quirky spot in Williamsburg specializing in fascinating city memorabilia or a working farm in the middle of the city (yes, farms are museums in these parts). True, these unique attractions might not attract a summer tourist crush, but they are well worth a visit to see yet another facet of New York City.

 

City Reliquary

(Photo: Courtesy of City Relinquary)

The City Reliquary
This funky not-for-profit community museum, which started out as a small window display in a ground-floor apartment in 2002, has been a fixture in Williamsburg for more than a decade. Today, it has grown in size and offers a cluttered but impressive collection of New York artifacts including subway tokens, baseball cards and a whole series on the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The museum hosts rotating exhibits of community collections highlighting sometimes obscure New York-centric treasures such as rare picture postcards or antique oil cans. Its hours are short, but the entertaining displays in the storefront windows, both at the new location and at the old space on at the intersection of Havemeyer and Grand streets, are always open. Special events, including fun show-and-tell nights, spill out into their outdoor garden in the warmer months. Thursday through Sunday from noon to 6pm. 370 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, cityreliquary.org

 

Rendering of the new Bronx River Art Center

Rendering of the new Bronx River Art Center (Courtesy of the Bronx River Art Center)

Bronx River Art Center and Bronx Art Center Temporary Gallery
With deep roots in the neighborhood, this non-profit organization founded in 1987 has a dual purpose. First is a passion for art as showcased with its program of classes, gallery shows and studio space, and second is a commitment to environmental justice, which is focused on keeping the Bronx River as a one-of-a-kind resource. Among its endeavors, BRAC puts on exhibits by community artists and inspires young people to be creative while learning about environmental concerns in an urban context. Past shows have included works looking at large-scale community development projects, and an exhibit on the impact of extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy, BRURAL: Shattering Phenomena. The opening receptions and lectures are lively affairs, so keep an eye on the schedule. Free admission to the gallery. Open during exhibitions on Wed-Fri 3pm-6:30pm and Sat. 12pm-5pm. Bronx River Art Center, 2064 Boston Rd., Bronx, 718-589-5819, bronxriverart.org; BRAC Gallery, 305 E. 140th St., #1A, Bronx, bronxriverart.org

 

Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art
Nestled in a residential Staten Island neighborhood, far from the borough’s famous ferry, this museum focusing on Tibetan art and culture takes effort to reach (read: a vehicle, although there is no dedicated parking lot, or the bus). But once you find it, get ready for a breathtaking experience of handsome stone structures, lush terraced gardens and beautiful Tibetan influence everywhere you look. Built to resemble a Himalayan monastery, it was the first of this style of architecture to be built in the United States. Indeed, The Dalai Lama praised it for its authenticity in 1991, according to The New York Times. It’s fitting that such a unique museum would be the byproduct of such a unique woman, one Jacques Marchais (1887-1948). The Cincinnati-born actress moved to the borough in 1921 following her marriage to a Brooklyn entrepreneur. She began collecting Tibetan and Himalayan art and, after owning a gallery dedicated to artifacts of the culture, designed the house and gardens herself to show off her collection. Incredibly, Marchais never visited Tibet, but her museum was so impressive, that LIFE magazine featured it when it opened in 1947. Hours vary by season. Adults $4; students/seniors $3. 338 Lighthouse Ave., Staten Island, 718-987-3500, tibetanmuseum.org

 

Queens County Farm Museum

Queens County Farm Museum (Photo: Mary Louise Price Foss)

Queens County Farm Museum
Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city? Look no further than this real working farm in the heart of Queens. Dating back to 1697, this is the city’s biggest parcel of undeveloped farmland, measuring an impressive 47 acres. Adults and kids can take classes or just roam the grounds learning about raising farm animals like sheep, goats and pigs and growing crops in the harsh New York climate.  It’s especially fun for a family visit with frequent children’s carnivals and antique car shows along with seasonal events such as Easter egg hunts in the spring and a pumpkin patch and haunted house in the fall. Daily 10am to 4pm. 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Queens, 718-347-3276, queensfarm.org

 

Morbid Anatomy

(Photo: Courtesy of Morbid Anatomy)

Morbid Anatomy
Looking to cheer yourself up? You might want to keep walking and skip this museum and library that’s taken up residence in the ever-expanding Gowanus cultural scene. If you’re a fan of strange curiosities, books, photographs, artworks and ephemera, and you don’t mind a little bit of death and dying in your cultural education, then this should be right up your alley. Expect lectures with topics you won’t find anywhere else, everything from “Selfies at Funerals” to “Bodysnatching in Old New York” and classes on Victorian hair jewelry and wearable taxidermy. Did we mention this stuff is really weird? Currently, the Brooklyn museum is only open on Saturdays from 2 to 6pm, but come April 2014, it will move to a permanent home with regular hours. 543 Union St., Brooklyn, through March 31, 2014; 424A Third Ave., morbidanatomy.blogspot.com

 

Waterfront Museum

(Photo: Courtesy of the Waterfront Museum)

Waterfront Museum
This marine museum is housed in a rare wooden Hudson River Railroad Barge (named Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge No. 79), the only kind in the country open to the general public. Established in 1985 before relocating to Red Hook in 1994, the museum exists to provide increasing access to the waterfront piers and promote Brooklyn’s unique maritime history. The Waterfront Museum has become a fixture of the Red Hook community, and it’s worth a visit just for a stunning view of the Statue of Liberty hovering over the harbor. Hours are limited hours, but events take place throughout the year, including rotating exhibits, performances and an annual Pirate Ball that draws guests decked out in elaborate costumes. Open Thu. 4-8pm and Sat. 1-5pm. 290 Conover St., Pier 44, Brooklyn, waterfrontmuseum.org

 

Mmuseumm

Museum (Photo: Panda073 Flickr/CC)

Museum
Located down an alley in TriBeCa that most locals don’t even know about, this tiny treasure stuffed inside a former freight elevator just might be the smallest cultural destination in the city. It’s fun to try to track it down, especially if you’re visiting Chinatown and need a break from the busy streets. The 80-square-foot display is visible 24 hours a day from the sidewalk, but when spring comes, the elevator shaft opens its doors on Saturdays and Sundays. The quirky art is always on the edge, and previous displays have included a collection of New York tip jars and bullet-proof children’s backpacks. Follow the Museum on twitter (@Mmuseumm) for updates on exhibits and hours, and in the off-season you can book a private tour via info@mmuseumm.com. Cortlandt Alley, between Franklin and White streets, mmuseumm.com

 

Alice Austen House

A photo from the collection at the Alice Austen House Museum (Photo: Courtesy of Alice Austen House Museum)

Alice Austen House Museum
Alice Austen (1866 – 1952) was way ahead of her time. A pioneering documentary photographer, she was shooting scenes of New York City street life years before it was fashionable. She taught herself photography after encountering a camera at age 10 and captured approximately 8,000 photographs during her lifetime. Headquartered in a home dating back to 1690 that was once owned by Austen’s grandfather, the museum holds a permanent exhibition of Austen’s photographs, changing art exhibits and period rooms. The collection and historic architecture are not the only highlights — the scenic grounds have incredible views of the water and the Verrazano Bridge. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays and from January to February. The house is open from 11am to 5pm, and the grounds are open every day of the year until dusk. $3 suggested donation. 2 Hylan Blvd., Staten Island, 718-816-4506, ext. 10, aliceausten.org

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