The New-York Historical Society’s fourth floor recently debuted its new look…

Formerly open collections storage, this floor has been repurposed into four parts: selected thematic collections, silver, women’s history, and Tiffany lamps. I recently had the opportunity to see this facelift at the Society’s preview event and have mixed feelings about the changes.

The former open collections storage will always have a special place in my heart because it was here that I discovered the moustache comb that inspired my research interests. That comb does not fit the museum’s new, thematic displays and is now one of several objects in off-site storage. What remains are a selection of objects arranged in little vignettes like “recreation” and “New York at war.”

I overheard one of the staff members explain that, unlike with the open collections storage, this allows the museum to tell stories with select objects. Basically, the museum tells visitors what to learn. I understand the motive, but if the motive is storytelling, isn’t that what rotating exhibitions are for? And is this really the best way to showcase the collection? The displays looked nice enough and were complimented with digital components, but I kept thinking, “I want to see more objects!”

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The highlight of museum’s transformation is definitely the new Tiffany section. Previously, the Society’s impressive collection of lamps was pushed into one corned of the open collections storage. Now they have a whole wing! This section occupies two levels and everything is arranged to allow viewing from multiple angles. Center displays allow one to circle the lamps and the second level allows one to appreciate the top of what’s displayed below.

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There is also a fun, interactive feature where you can design your own lamp:

I did not have the chance to properly assess the new center for women’s history, but from what I could tell, it was like the best really was saved for last! This installation seems by far the most interesting and I intend to return and give a full report.

Overall, the fourth floor makeover has received mixed reviews. Some people love it, some people hate it. I…I’ll admit I’m impressed but…more objects, please!

 

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