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8 Hidden Museums Around the Globe

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Wikipedia // Public Domain

Not all of the world's museums are splashy, high-profile institutions. Some fascinating collections are tucked away in more obscure spots, whether it's the suburbs of Maryland or the sanitation department of New York City. Here are eight obscure or semi-private attractions that make it worth going out of your way.

1. THE CIA MUSEUM IN LANGLEY, VIRGINIA

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintains a museum inside its Langley, Virginia headquarters, but outsiders aren’t allowed in. It’s only open to CIA employees, their families, official visitors, and the occasional persistent reporter. Founded in 1972, on the agency's 25th birthday, the museum contains thousands of declassified items, touching on the history of the CIA as well as that of its predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, and foreign intelligence agencies.

Among the hundreds of items on display inside the Langley museum, there's a brick from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan; a hollow rat corpse once used as a “drop” to pass agency secrets; and deadly weapons galore. However, you don’t need to become a secret agent (or marry a spy) to see some of the formerly top-secret relics: Pictures and videos of museum items are available on the CIA’s website, and the organization occasionally partners with libraries, museums, and other institutions to create exhibitions.

2. THE TREASURE IN THE TRASH MUSEUM IN NEW YORK CITY

 

The adage “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” rings true at New York City’s Treasure in the Trash museum. Located on the second floor of a nondescript East Harlem warehouse, the museum features countless tossed-out items, curated by former sanitation worker Nelson Molina.

Now retired and in his 60s, Molina first began collecting curbside souvenirs decades ago while on the job. The New York City Department of Sanitation bans employees from bringing their finds home, so Molina used them to adorn an employee locker room inside the Sanitation Department’s East 99th Street truck depot.

His co-workers (and trash collectors from other city boroughs) followed suit, bringing in unwanted objects like Furbys, typewriters, family photos, artworks, and furniture. Over the years, the collection grew to include other unusual items, like a copy of Lena Horne's autobiography signed by the singer herself; a vintage movie projector, and a Star of David-shaped steel plaque from the World Trade Center.

Molina is retired, but he still takes time to maintain his museum, which now fills an entire warehouse floor. The curator pre-approves all museum submissions and artfully arranges them into groups by type, theme, or color. But unless you’re a sanitation worker, you’ll generally have to contact the Department of Sanitation for a pre-arranged tour. (This may change in the near future: The East 99th street warehouse is slated for demolition and the Sanitation Department hopes to relocate the museum to a publicly accessible location.)

3. THE DAVID HASSELHOFF MUSEUM IN BERLIN, GERMANY

Erika Berlin

 
David Hasselhoff’s star (and tan) may have faded since the Baywatch era, but the actor still has fans in Germany: He’s the subject of a hidden museum in Berlin, tucked inside the basement of the Circus Hostel in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood and curated by bartender Ally Chaplin.

The tiny, two-year-old museum is mostly ironic (Germans aren’t as obsessed with the ‘Hoff as we think they are), but it does contain informative displays about Hasselhoff’s influence in Berlin; TV shows Knight Rider and Baywatch; and the hostel’s ongoing campaign to change their street’s name from Weinbergsweg to David-Hasselhoff-Strasse (German for “David Hasselhoff Street”). And since no ‘Hoff-inspired shrine would be complete without rippling muscles and chest hair, there’s also lots of cheesy fan art.

4. THE WILLIAM P. DIDUSCH CENTER FOR UROLOGIC HISTORY IN LINTHICUM, MARYLAND

At the William P. Didusch Center for Urologic History, non-doctors can learn more than they ever expected (or needed) to know about the human urinary tract system. The museum is located inside the American Urological Association’s Linthicum, Maryland headquarters, and is open to members of the public by appointment only. It's named after William P. Didusch, a medical illustrator renowned for his drawings of the urinary tract and the various instruments used to treat it.

The museum is filled with historic medical illustrations, medical specimens, old-fashioned medical tools (some more horrifying than others), and other bladder-related items. Among them is a pineapple-sized kidney stone and a selection of dandies’ canes, the latter featuring hidden cavities for stashing catheters and lubricant. Visitors can also check out an assortment of revolving exhibits, including the upcoming “The History of the Kidney."

5. TOMBA EMMANUELLE IN OSLO, NORWAY

 

Gustav Vigeland is renowned in Norway for creating Vigeland Park, the world's largest sculpture park by a single artist. As for his younger brother, Emanuel Vigeland, he's remembered for designing one of Oslo’s most bizarre under-the-radar attractions: an otherworldly mausoleum/museum hidden inside a nondescript brick building.

Emanuel Vigeland didn’t originally set out to build his own tomb: Like his sibling he was an artist, so in 1926 he constructed a brick building to display his sculpture and paintings. But he also thought the 8600-square-foot space would make a great final resting spot, so he sealed the windows with bricks and covered the walls and ceiling with a fresco portraying “man’s sexual instinct, conveyed through multitudes of naked bodies, women and men in impetuous intimacy,” as described on the museum’s website. (Vigeland reportedly resented his older brother’s success; the over-the-top mausoleum, which he dubbed Tomba Emmanuelle, may have arisen from feelings of inadequacy.)

When Emanuel Vigeland died in 1948, his ashes were stored in an urn that sits above the mausoleum’s main entrance. To enter, visitors need to walk through a low passage and duck down through an inner door; it’s speculated that the artist designed it this way so they’d have to “bow” to his remains. The mausoleum opened to the public as a museum in 1959; today, it's only open for several hours each Sunday, and only a few people are allowed in at a time.

6. THE STAR TOYS MUSEUM IN BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

 

Thomas Atkinson didn’t originally set out to start a private home museum of Star Wars toys and memorabilia, “but there’s just so much cool stuff,” he told Maryland’s Capital News Service in 2012. Now in his 50s, Atkinson began collecting Star Wars-themed items after first seeing the original film as a 13-year-old. But what started out as a couple T-shirts and posters ballooned into thousands of comics, action figures, trading cards, plates, linens, posters, and more.

These objects went on permanent display in 1994, when Atkinson moved to his present-day house in Linthicum Heights, Maryland and filled an entire room with his Star Wars stuff. To “more effectively protect, preserve, and promote this outstanding collection,” Atkinson founded his Star Toys Museum in 1998.

Members of the public can view The Star Toys Museum by scheduling an appointment. And while they’re at it, visitors can also follow the scent of wood chips and check out Atkinson’s giant hamster home, which he bills as “the world’s largest hamster habitat." According to Atkinson, it "occupies three rooms across two stories and passes through solid walls" [PDF].

7. THE MMUSEUMM IN NEW YORK CITY

 

In the case of New York City’s Mmuseumm, a freight elevator doesn’t carry visitors up to the museum—it is the museum. Located in Tribeca’s Cortlandt Alley, the tiny space contains a curated assortment of artworks, found items, vintage curiosities, and cultural memorabilia all displayed and labeled like objects of great value or historic significance. “We’re thinking about narratives and ideas that connect us as humans and then [we] illustrate those with objects,” Mmuseumm co-founder Alex Kalman told The Cut.

Now in its fifth year of operations, The Mmuseumm is currently open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m (although it was closed for the installation of a new exhibit at press time). If you miss visiting hours, you can peer through the elevator’s windows and access the museum’s audio guide by calling a number on your phone. To view even more curious items from the Mmuseumm’s collections, check out its second "wing" (yet another tiny exhibition space), located on the same block.

8. THE BENDERY MILITARY MUSEUM IN TRANSNISTRIA

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Tucked between Moldova and Ukraine is a tiny former Soviet republic called Transnistria. It’s not recognized by the United Nations, nor is it typically included on world maps. The territory was once part of Moldova, but when that country broke away from the Soviet Union in 1990, citizens of Transnistria—which was home to many Russian-speakers—still felt attached to the Soviets and declared independence. They planned to establish a socialist republic, and remain part of the Soviet Union.

Moldova and the breakaway republic went to war. The conflict lasted until 1992, when it ended in a ceasefire. (By then, of course, the Soviet Union had dissolved.) Moldova gave Transnistria limited autonomy, and today, it has its own government, army, national anthem, and currency. However, Moldova still won’t fully acknowledge Transnistria as its own country, and neither has Russia.

Visitors to the city of Bendery in Transnistria can visit a tiny museum, hidden inside three adjoining cars from a decomissioned Soviet steam train. The museum's displays trace the city’s military history, and are filled with rare Soviet military memorabilia: uniforms, medals, a handle-driven computing device, weapons, and Lenin and Stalin pictures galore. The Military Museum at Bendery is free, and is located right next to Bendery’s main train station. Keep in mind, however, that none of the museum’s curators speak English, nor are translations available for the museum’s plaques.

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Watch an Artist Build a Secret Studio Beneath an Overpass
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Artists can be very particular about the spaces where they choose to do their work. Furniture designer Fernando Abellanas’s desk may not boast the quietest or most convenient location on Earth, but it definitely wins points for seclusion. According to Co.Design, the artist covertly constructed his studio beneath a bridge in Valencia, Spain.

To make his vision a reality, Abellanas had to build a metal and plywood apparatus and attach it to the top of an underpass. After climbing inside, he uses a crank to wheel the box to the top of the opposite wall. There, the contents of his studio, including his desk, chair, and wall art, are waiting for him.

The art nook was installed without permission from the city, so Abellanas admits that it’s only a matter of time before the authorities dismantle it or it's raided by someone else. While this space may not be permanent, he plans to build others like it around the city in secret. You can get a look at his construction process in the video below.

[h/t Co.Design]

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15 Facts About Franz Marc's Yellow Cow
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To gaze upon German Expressionist Franz Marc's Yellow Cow is to take in a surreal and spirited painting, alive with color. But within its bold brush strokes and envelope-pushing aesthetic lies the unexpected story of a complicated love between two artists, and the path that led them together.

1. YELLOW COW IS WILDLY DIFFERENT FROM FRANZ MARC'S EARLY WORKS.

Philosophy student-turned-painter Franz Marc attended the Munich Academy of Art during the turn of the 20th century. There, he studied natural realism, striving to capture his subjects in portraits true to dimension, gesture, and color. In 1902, he created Portrait of the Artist's Mother, which immortalized homemaker and devout Calvinist Sophie Marc. Sitting in profile, she leans over a book, reading by the light of an unseen lantern. Though Marc would become known for his vibrant color choices, here he favored darker shades that gave the painting a flat appearance, and a somber mood.

2. YELLOW COW'S CREATION WAS INSPIRED BY GERMAN NUDISTS.

In the early 20th century, Germany was in the midst of a back-to-nature movement, which saw several new artist collectives and nudist colonies pop up around the country. This celebration of the glory of the land and its natural inhabitants spoke to Marc, who later explained, "People with their lack of piety, especially men, never touched my true feelings. But animals with their virginal sense of life awakened all that was good in me."

3. HE VIEWED ANIMALS AS GOD-LIKE CREATURES.

Like the naturalists, Marc came to value the rural wonders of the country. He abandoned the bustle and urban intellectualism of Munich, and sought the spirituality and peace he believed could be found in living simply, as animals do. He began to think of them as having a "god-like presence and power." In a 1908 letter, Marc attempted to detail how this belief was informing his work, writing, "I am trying to intensify my ability to sense the organic rhythm that beats in all things, to develop a pantheistic sympathy for the trembling flow of blood in nature, in trees, in animals, in air—I am trying to make a picture of it … with colors which make a mockery of the old kind of studio picture."

4. ANIMALS BECAME A SIGNATURE MOTIF FOR MARC.

This is an image of Dog Lying in the Snow by Franz Marc
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By 1907, Marc was focusing his work on capturing the spiritualism found in animals. Other notable works in the vein include The Fox, Dog Lying In The Snow, The Little Blue Horses, The Red Bull, Little Monkey, Monkey Frieze, Wild Boars in the Water, and The Tiger.

5. YELLOW COW IS A VERY LARGE PAINTING.

Measuring 55 3/8 by 74 1/2 inches, it's nearly 5 by 6 feet wide.

6. MARC DEVELOPED HIS OWN COLOR SYMBOLISM.

This is an image of Self-portrait by August Macke.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Colors would recur in Marc's work and speak to different emotions or themes. In 1910, he explained his use of color in a letter to friend and colleague, artist August Macke. Marc wrote, "Blue is the male principle, astringent and spiritual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, gay, and spiritual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the color to be opposed and overcome by the other two."

7. YELLOW COW MIGHT BE AN UNCONVENTIONAL WEDDING PORTRAIT.

Exploring the painter's works and statements on his use of color, art historian Mark Rosenthal declared that the frolicking cow is actually a veiled depiction of Marc's second wife Maria Franck, while the distant blue mountains are meant to represent the painter himself. Painted the same year the couple were married, it times out to potentially be representative of their nuptials. The blending of the blue into the cow's spots suggests the joining of masculine and feminine.

8. FRANCK WAS A RECURRING MUSE FOR HER LOVER.

In 1906, before they were married, Marc had sketched a more traditional portrait of his wife-to-be, titled simply Mädchenkopf, which translates—rather unsentimentally—to "girl's head." That same year, he captured Franck in the abstract painting Two Women on the Hillside. Later, he created Maria Franck in a White Cap.

9. MARC AND FRANCK HAD A COMPLICATED ROMANCE.

An artist in her own right, Franck met Marc at a costume ball in Schwabing, Germany. The pair hit it off, and also befriended illustrator Marie Schnür, resulting in a shared Bavarian summer of creativity (and rumored three-way trysts). Schnür was the other woman who modeled for Two Women on the Hillside, as well as the other woman captured in a NSFW photo from their formative season in the sun. Marc ended up marrying both women, starting with Schnür.

Theirs was a marriage of convenience, meant to aid her in securing custody of her bastard baby boy, whom she had with another man. Details on this marriage are scant beyond that it was brief, lasting from 1907 to 1908. However, because Schnür accused Marc of infidelity, he was barred from remarrying until a special dispensation was granted, which took years. So while Marc and Franck had tried to wed in 1911, their official "I do" didn't come until June 3, 1913, in Munich.

10. TWO WOMEN ON THE HILLSIDE WAS A SIGN OF MARC'S TRANSITION TO HIS SIGNATURE STYLE.

This is an image of Two Women on the Hillside by Franz Marc.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Looking back on 1906's Two Women on the Hillside, it seems to foretell Yellow Cow. Depicting the two women who, in their own ways, would inspire Yellow Cow, Marc moved away from the German realist art he studied in college. Instead, looser brush strokes speak to Post-Impressionist interests, and the willful abstractness of its subjects predicts the evolving German expressionism movement of which he would become a part. It also shows repetition in the lines—of the woman's hip to the hill beyond—that would be revisited in Yellow Cow, whose haunches mirror the rise and fall of the mountains behind her.

11. YELLOW COW WAS A PART OF THE DER BLAUE REITER ART MOVEMENT.

Named for a Wassily Kandinsky painting, this movement boasted members like Kandinsky, Marc, Macke, Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, and Gabriele Münter. Der Blaue Reiter (translating to The Blue Rider) had no hard manifesto, but its members shared a common urge to express spiritualism through their work, and often specifically through color. Turned away from exhibitions, they toured with their own, and published an almanac that celebrated contemporary, primitive, and folk art, along with children's paintings.

12. DER BLAUE REITER WAS DEVASTATED BY WORLD WAR I.

The Blue Rider movement only lasted from 1911 to 1914, in large part because the tensions growing between nations chased Russian artists back to their homeland, while Germans, including Marc and Macke, were conscripted into military service. As these artistic colleagues scattered, their movement faded. But it proved fundamental to the evolving Expressionism, and its works would remain.

13. MARC DID NOT LIVE TO SEE HIS LEGACY SECURED.

Marc's animal paintings would go on to awe viewers for decades to come. They'd become coveted by collectors and museums. And a plaque would be placed on the Munich home where he was born, remembering him as a founder of Der Blaue Reiter. But Marc was killed on March 4, 1916, during the Battle of Verdun. He was 36 years old.

14. FRANCK SAW TO IT THAT HIS WORKS WOULD BE PRESERVED.

This is an image of art historian, Klaus Lankheit.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Marc's widow gave records of his life and writing to German art historian Klaus Lankheit. She called on German writer/gallery owner Herwarth Walden to exhibit her late husband's works in a posthumous show in October of 1916. While continuing to create and exhibit her own work, she collected Marc's letters from the war's front, and in 1920 had them published in a two-volume book called Briefe, Aufzeichnungen und Aphorismen (translating to Letters, Records, and Aphorisms). According to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where a copy of each is preserved, "The first volume contains letters written from September 1914 to March 1916 as well as records alongside color plates, and the second presents the artist’s sketchbook." Franck preserved Marc's legacy in whatever way she could, and in doing so, gave him to the world.

15. YELLOW COW IS REMEMBERED AS A JOYFUL MASTERPIECE.

While it might not sound complimentary to compare your wife to a cow, the consensus on Yellow Cow is that it signifies the happiness and bliss Marc's bond with Franck brought to his life. The bovine's bright colors are jubilant and yet the colors of her body jibe with those in her environment. She belongs here. Her pose is enthusiastic and bold—almost dance-like. If you look closely, you can even see a small smile play across her lips. It's an unusual love letter, but one that's outlived its lovers, and now hangs on the walls of the Guggenheim in New York City, to inspire many more.

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