When we read on our invitation that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani would be cutting the ribbon at the inaugural evening of Museum, a mysterious new downtown venture, we confess we felt a certain degree of perplexity. And so, armed only with the knowledge that the evening’s main attraction somehow involved an old freight elevator, last night we headed down to lower Manhattan’s Cortlandt Alley.
Museum, a non-profit venture from Red Bucket Films impresarios Alex Kalman and Josh and Benny Safdie, represents, in their words, “an amalgamation of collections” and found objects. When at last the padlock was undone with a ceremonious clang, we craned as best we could to see without disturbing the red ribbon across the doorway or the imposing-looking security guard. The 80-square-foot, fluorescent-lit wunderkammer boasts an array of artifacts: one lonely-looking cockroach leg, a roll of luxury hotel toilet paper from India, a box of something called “menopuse release tea.” Guests can call a 1-800 number and enter the digits corresponding with each item to hear its story.
With the alleged ribbon cutting drawing near, Cortlandt Alley soon swelled with guests that reclined against scaffolding and graffitied garage doors. The Observer noticed among male attendees a certain visible comfort telegraphed by their flannel shirts. Writer Glenn O’Brien passed us, looking dapper in a leather jacket and wide-brimmed hat. A woman in a Charles Barkley jersey and knee-high athletic socks wove deftly through the throng on roller blades, and a hot dog cart was wheeled into the alley. It was not long before guests sipped Cokes and Fantas, pretzels in hand.
But what was the impetus for assembling a collection as sundry as Museum’s? “It’s just been sort of this lifelong thing that we’ve been doing ourselves, and then we reached out to other people, who just have their collections in their homes. We decided to give it the proper space to breathe,” Red Bucket’s Benny Safdie told us.
We were fortunate to run into the proud owner of one such collection, venerated industrial designer Tucker Viemeister. Thirty tubes (we counted) of toothpaste from around the globe are on display, representing only a fraction of his collection. Though the numbers are ever expanding, we pressed Mr. Viemeister for some quantifiable amount of his minty freshness. “Maybe 115 tubes now?” he replied. The toothpaste specimens featured in Museum were culled personally by Mr. Kalman, who assures us, “It was very serious. It wasn’t, like, a funny thing.”
Also on hand—in his signature spectacles and a lemon-and-white striped shirt—was Kate Spade co-founder Andy Spade, now of Partners & Spade. Having collaborated on films with Red Bucket, he and his family have been an active force in Museum since its conception. Mr. Spade’s own collection was represented (catalogue numbers 7029-7033, for your reference) and consisted of photographs ripped out of scrapbooks and displayed face down, showing Rorschach-like blots left where the paper was peeled away.
The Observer asked if there was a piece in the exhibit particularly near to his heart? “The shoe that was thrown at George Bush,” Mr. Spade replied. Though we were abashed to admit it, we had missed the infamous footwear in question. Mr. Spade was kind enough to escort us back into the space, directing our attention to the shoe lobbed at the then-President by an Iraqi journalist in 2008, ensconced in a small glass case. And while he was not willing to swear to its authenticity, he told us he “looked at the video over and over again, and it looks exactly like it.”
Standing in the doorway, Mr. Spade became a de facto docent, telling queuing visitors about everything from a barnacle-encrusted cell phone (imported from Hawaii) to Museum’s carpeting (sisal, he suspected).
Through the now-packed alley we spotted Sonic Youth co-founder and guitarist Lee Ranaldo and sauntered over to get his take on Manhattan’s newest museum. Moments after we caught his ear, a black car arrived, parting the crowd unceremoniously with several horn blasts. We waited with bated breath. From the guests came a smattering of boos and some cheers. The car pulled up to the curb in front of Museum, and emerging into the waiting clutches of the security guard came Rudy Giuliani—sort of. In truth, it was a gifted Giuliani impersonator, but even we paused for a moment in the face of that distinctive Giuliani smile. After cutting the ribbon and saying a few words, he flashed the crowd two victorious “V” signs, and was whisked off into the night. We couldn’t help but wonder if the “mayor” would be making any other appearances that evening.
The Observer reconvened with Mr. Ranaldo, curious if the special guest had lived up to his expectations. “Yes! I loved that he was doing the Nixon thing.” After a moment, he inquired laughingly, “You’re not an imposter, are you?” We assured him we were the real thing before he was swept off by another guest.
As we mingled near the throng awaiting entry to the museum, a woman sporting a smart white cocktail dress joked, “I was inspired to use the dirty toothpaste, because I forgot to brush my teeth before I came here.” From a few feet away, we heard the familiar pop of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in the hands of Museum co-founder Josh Safdie. He swigged from the bottle before passing it off to fellow curator Mr. Kalman. We asked if the fizz tasted of anything. Victory, perhaps? “No,” Mr. Kalman pondered. “It kind of tastes weird.”
When the crowd had thinned to a mere lingering few, and a drained bottle of Cook’s Brut sat lonely by a folding chair, The Observer headed off to appreciate the Museum’s toll-free catalogue in the solitude of our apartment. Of said catalogue, an excited Mr. Ranaldo told us, “It’s supposed to be pretty critical.”
And it was.
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