Voices of the Modern Museum: Alex Kalman of the MMuseumm

By Kylie Sharkey

Alex Kalman founded the MMuseumm in 2012, an institution that delivers large doses of poeticism in small and unexpected ways. MMuseumm defines itself as, “a modern natural history museum dedicated to the curation and exhibition of contemporary artifacts that illustrate and humanize the complexities of the modern world.” This lofty mission is pursued in two unconventional New York City locations, MMuseumm 1 is housed in a former freight elevator and Mmuseumm 2 in a store-front window, only 20 square feet in size. But the scale of these sites are contrary to the magnitude of ideas Kalman aims to present. MMuseumm strives to challenge visitors to see mundane, ephemeral, and everyday objects as latent sources of human revelation.

Kalman’s exhibitions show a commitment to his belief that “you are not curating objects; you are curating ideas.” Superficially, MMuseumm’s artifacts may appear banal: tubes of toothpaste, silicon body part piercing displays, Newsstand paper weights. But behind these seemingly simple objects are complex and often universal stories. “Vomit from Around” exhibited an array of fake, joke store, plastic pools of throw up. Sourced from around the world, these unconventional artifacts point to larger themes of shared cross-cultural humor. Censored Saudi Arabian pool floats highlight the rejection of female bodily display and bullet proof Disney themed backpacks indicate the proliferation of guns in our current society. Kalman best describes the intent behind his curatorial choices, explaining, “In the vernacular the richest expression of the human experience is revealed.”

Kalman’s understanding of the modern museum is as simultaneously serious and humorous as “Vomit Around”, saying, “Museums are temples to the poetic, to meaning, to narrative…we don’t go to the DMV to seek inspiration, beauty, or joy.” While museums as temples is not a contemporary notion, MMuseumm challenges the size and contents of these sacred spaces. By asking visitors to attend to the everyday objects that populate their worlds, Kalman encourages them to extract significance from the most unlikely of objects.

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