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Best Smaller Museums in New York

New York is blessed with museums of all shapes, sizes, and levels of weirdness. As a visitor or a resident, it can be easy to stick the massive institutions that are famous worldwide, like the Met, the Guggenheim, the MoMA, and the Whitney. But many of the city’s less well-known museums are equally deserving of your time for their fine art, distinctive collections, or straight-up strangeness. Here are some of our favorites.

Museum of the Moving Image

MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE

Located in Astoria in Queens at 35th Avenue and 37th Street, the Museum of the Moving Image is a shrine to everything cinema. It includes exhibits that cover the art and science of film- and TV-making from the 19th century to today, showcasing everything from equipment to cinema furnishings. Even better, the Museum screens over 400 movies a year, including new festival films as well as forgotten gems you’re unlikely to see anywhere else.

Rubin Museum of Art

RUBIN MUSEUM OF ART

Opening in 2004 in the old Barneys building in Chelsea, the Rubin Museum of Art is a museum devoted to the art and ideas of Himalayan Asia. Located on West 17th Street, the museum displays pieces from several centuries of Himalayan art, and features everything from sound art to film screenings to photography.

There are things to do as well as to contemplate, with meditation workshops and some pretty interesting series (Himalayan Book of the Dead Club, anyone?). The museum aims to make cross-cultural connections and generate new ways of seeing the world.

Tenement Museum

Tenement Museum

The story of the Lower East Side is the story of immigration, struggle, prejudice, and working-class life in what was once the most densely populated place on earth. The Tenement Museum lets you explore the lives and living spaces of bartenders, shopkeepers, and garment workers, seeing how they worked, lived, and expressed themselves. The Museum can be visited by guided tour only – it also conducts walking tours.

Morgan Library and Museum

Morgan Library and Museum

Moving this list from immigrant poverty to patrician wealth, the Morgan Library & Museum on Madison Avenue (at 36th Street) began as Pierpont Morgan’s private library, before his son, J.P. Morgan, turned the place into a public institution. The complex of buildings features an opulent library, study, reading room, and a concert hall, and Pierpont Morgan’s enormous collection features everything from medieval manuscripts to Rembrandt prints to ancient Near Eastern seals.

Museum of the American Gangster

Museum of the American Gangster

The monument that organized crime deserved. The Museum of the American Gangster is on St. Mark’s Place (at First Avenue) in the East Village, and offers the chance for a guided tour of an exhibition centered on the Prohibition era, as well as an historic speakeasy. Conveniently, when you’re done touring the historic speakeasy, you’re close to a number of actual speakeasies like Please Don’t Tell.

The smaller and stranger the museum, the less likely it is to stick around forever – the Morbid Anatomy Museum fell off this list because it closed its doors late last year – so it’s good to see the smaller ones while you can. And if you need a ride to one – or several – of these museums, be sure to reserve a ride online.
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