El Museo del Barrio is housed on the ground floor of a multi-story brick building near Central Park. The building is currently shrouded by scaffolding, which made the museum a little hard to spot. The entrance and gift shop had a very modern feel with neon colors and hard angles giving it the veneer of a contemporary art museum. It evoked the rhythms, colors and vibrancy that’s often associated with latin and Caribbean cultures.
Considering the footprint of the entryway, giftshop and cafe, the collection was surprisingly modest. It was formatted like a standard white-wall collection that spanned various media, genres and countries. There didn’t seem to be a huge emphasis on creating a narrative or expressing a theme beyond the inherent regionalism. It was arranged in a meandering, patchwork style that flowed between various rooms.
The website does a sufficient job of presenting the information I was looking for (mainly, how do I get there and what are your hours). It was otherwise unremarkable.
Unfortunately the entryway was the most impressive aspect of El Museo del Barrio. After paying for tickets, we were directed to an unmarked double door that was closed—it wouldn’t have been obvious where to go otherwise. The collection was fairly small and disparate. There were many attendants in the space and one of them even engaged us to talk about the art, which I thought was kind of interesting.
MCNY is housed in a classically styled building, which also flanks the upper east side of Central Park. The interior cleanly blends modern design with the civic architecture, and has a very balanced feel. Lots of white columns and glass. Each floor generally has an exhibit in either wing which are quite distinct from each other, both physically and thematically.
The exhibits are designed to highlight specific facets of New York City, conveyed through an array of media. One exhibit was devoted to the city’s role in global finance. Another displayed the living spaces of various NY peoples throughout time. The museum has a very pedagogical bent, the degree to which is sometimes overwhelming. The presentation seemed very thoughtful and information rich.
Like El Museo del Barrio, the MCNY museum did a sufficient job at giving me directions and hours, but otherwise feels a little busy. It doesn’t do a great job at simply presenting the impressive collection and enjoyable space. One odd thing is that once you click on the “Public Programs” link, you’re directed to a shopping cart that doesn’t share the website’s navigation and doesn’t have a clear way back to the home page.
I enjoyed the Museum of the City of New York quite a bit, especially for its educational aspect. I left feeling that I wasn’t able to soak it all in, so I plan on returning in the future.