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Nothing is Too Small: Alex Kalman’s Mmuseumm

How are big stories told in small spaces? How do small stories get lost in big spaces? Take a walk down Cortlandt Alley in TriBeCa and if you’re staring at your phone, you’ll miss a tiny room that contains huge significance.

Mmuseumm at 3 Cortlandt Alley (between White and Franklin Streets) is 36 square feet–6 feet 3 inches tall, 6 feet deep, 6 feet wide–and abundant with stories. Since 2012, the museum has displayed a rotating collection of “modern-day artifacts,” engaging relevant contemporary issues through object-based storytelling.

The objects, carefully curated by Alex Kalman, ask the viewer to endow significance onto them to glean clarity about human nature and our world in this moment. The room is rich with meaning, but you have to look for it. Once you’re in the museum, an audio tour is accessible toll-free through your phone.

The entire museum is squeezed into the shaft of a freight elevator that used to open right to the street. The building, a former textile warehouse, is characteristic of the area and blends right into the drab alley if you’re not looking for it. Seven years ago, three friends (Alex Kalman with Josh and Ben Safdie) were told that the building’s elevator shaft was being converted and leased out as an art space, and they saw an opportunity to amplify big ideas through small objects.

Mmuseumm opened another space on Cortlandt Alley in 2015 and the street has recently earned the nickname “Museum Alley.” Mmuseumm also has its own cafe, in an even tinier space a few doors down behind a storefront. Kalman hopes to expand the museum even more, but keep it within unlikely spaces to preserve the magic and the curiosity that his space ignites.

Most people miss these spaces entirely, and the hundreds of stories they contain. The opportunity to engage with significant objects gets lost because we aren’t seeking it out. Kalman, when curating the collection, considers the vastness of traditional museum and gallery spaces. With layers of meaning, lots of visitors and distractions, and many rooms of objects, details inevitably get overlooked. Mmuseumm is easy to overlook, but once you’re inside it’s 36 square feet, it’s hard to miss important details. Instead, you’ll be immersed–physically and intellectually–in the space that Kalman has created.

The atmosphere and location play a role in the overall experience and the curator embraces that oneness with the neighborhood. The alley tends to smell like smoke, trash, exhaust, and other humans-in-a-city smells. In these cabinet-style displays of humanity through objects, the sensory experience of Museum Alley is all the more cohesive. Mmuseumm is open 11am – 6 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. All other days, you can schedule an appointment through their website, or simply walk by and peer through the peep-holes at the well-lit display.

Is it possible to move through New York with the curiosity that Mmuseumm asks of us? Where might there be opportunities to amplify your own story and leave your mark on New York? Why is it important to listen to the stories that a city is telling about itself?