The Best Kept Secrets of NYC's Museum Scene

New York City’s Museum Mile is standard fare for the highly cultured and culturally curious alike. But even the most extensive expedition under the vaulted ceilings of these iconic halls won’t yield all that New York has to offer in the way of sightseeing; in fact, some of its greatest attractions are off the beaten path. After you’ve exhausted the typical Museum Mile offerings, venture into one of the following fringe spaces for something fresh.

1. MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is no stranger to performance art. But despite the category’s relatively loose definition, there’s one constant among that which shows up at MoMA; the relationship usually involves an agreement between the artist and the museum. “The Kiss” is an exception to this rule.

Austrian artist Maria Anwander strolled into the museum wearing a deep red lipstick, planted a full kiss to one of the stark white walls, and affixed a fake label simulating the format of a regular MoMA caption beneath the self-styled artwork. Though the stunt could have ended with Anwander in handcuffs, MoMA was so impressed with her spirit that it’s let the artwork stand. Stop in to the museum see Anwander’s work and dozens of other contemporary masterpieces.

2. The Frick Collection

Located in 19th-century industrialist Henry Clay Frick’s lofty wood-paneled Upper East Side mansion, the Frick Collection is a Rococo meets Ivy League repository for traditional paintings from such luminaries as Monet and Renoir. You’ll see landscapes from the greats and hear string quartets in the Jacobean courtyard, but what you may not see is the basement’s vintage bowling alley. The bowling alley isn’t open to the general public, but occasionally a visitor will be plucked from the milling crowds to bowl a few frames on the pinewood lanes with custom-made balls in the alley commissioned by Frick himself in 1914, so cross your fingers as you explore the galleries.

3. Pomander Walk

Central Park is often lauded as the best way to leave Manhattan without actually leaving Manhattan, but the Upper West Side’s Pomander Walk is another great option; a step into the quaintest English village this side of the Atlantic. This short block lined with brightly shuttered two-story Tudors was inspired by an old London street, and behind the iron gate, real estate prices touch the sky. Pomander Walk is kept under lock and key, but in New York any lock will open to he who knows the right keyholder.

4. St. Augustine’s Church

On the Lower East Side, St. Augustine’s Church is a landmark in its own right due to its status as the oldest structure on its block. But don’t come here for the sanctuary, come for a glimpse at the so-called ‘slave galleries,’ a shameful secret it shared with many churches of the time. Located above the mezzanine level in the upper eaves of the church, these rough-hewn rooms of warped wooden pews are where African-Americans would have been hidden from the view of whites during and for a short while after the building’s erection in 1828 (though slavery was abolished in the state of New York the year before). These particular slave galleries have other shadowy history too: Boss Tweed, then a fugitive from justice, evaded authorities at his mother’s funeral by viewing the proceedings from the relative safety of the slave gallery.

5. Mmuseumm

Perhaps the most tightly-guarded secret on this list, Mmuseumm is a compact TriBeCa space built in an abandoned freight elevator and accessible only through a dark alleyway. However, the pot of gold at the end of this journey’s rainbow is well worth the trip. This collection of what the Mmuseumm website calls “strange objects and artifacts removed from their narratives” houses such oddities as an extensive collection of toothpaste tubes, a package of melted gummy worms, and a shoe reported as the very same one famously lobbed at George W. Bush in a 2008 Baghdad press conference. Stop in to reflect on materialism via an ever-changing lineup of modern day trash turned museum treasure.