Friends set out to visit 113 New York City museums

new york city museums friends
A trio of friends, including Allison Amend and Katherine Lee, pictured, embarked on a journey to visit 113 museums across New York City.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro New York

It started as a simple pact between museum buddies.

Three friends who casually visited some of the city’s famous museums and galleries decided in August 2012 to up the ante and hit up every museum in New York City.

Their cultural expedition, mostly intact, is slated to end on March 1 after one year, six months and 15 days of visits to some of the city’s remote and occasionally peculiar haunts.

Allison Amend, Katherine Lee and Duncan Smith set out to do what they thought no one in the five boroughs could lay claim to.

The motivation was simple.

“It’s kind of like Mt. Everest,” Amend said. “Because it’s there.”

The only problem was they had no idea how many museums they were talking about. The official New York City government website lists about 50 museums between the five boroughs, but the trio realized it was rather incomplete.

“There’s no actual complete list of museums in New York City,” said Amend, 39. “We decided if it has ‘museum’ in the name, it’s a museum.”

After doing the math, the group found 113 museums spread across the city. They blogged their adventures and gave themselves a year to complete their mission. And the renowned museums didn’t count — they eliminated 22 locations that at least two of them had previously visited.

There would be no Museum of Modern Art or Guggenheim on the agenda. Rather, they scheduled a stop at the non-functional freight elevator in Tribeca mononymously named Museum, with its showcase of prison inmate-made products.

Months later, they made friends with Dozer, curator of the Tattoo Museum in Staten Island’s East Shore. Amend remembered Dozer having said he designed the “official” commemorative Sept. 11 tattoo at his tattoo shop, beneath the collection of mannequins displaying different tattooing techniques.

“You really have to admire people’s passions,” Amend said. “It can be simultaneously absurd and touching.”

But even an appreciation for passion has its limits. The three friends planned to finish their project within year, mostly biking between a few locations on any given weekend.

They squeezed five museums into their trek to Staten Island, forging through unforgiving hills and relentless summer heat. It was also a more expensive venture than they anticipated, with donations and admission costs adding up fast.

“It was hard at times, burning weekends to visit museums — especially when we were faced with the prospect of some of the really little, niche museums that weren’t directly related to any of our personal interests,” Lee, 30, said.

Enthusiasm between the trio would suffer two big dips last year as they balanced their personal lives with what became a slog through the first 80 or so museum visits.

Smith, 30, eventually dropped out a few weeks before the journey’s end.

Smith said he didn’t regret the project — he appreciated the chance to see a handful of new places and learn conversational factoids — including that jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s kitchen had a built-in blender.

“But it just wasn’t enough to maintain my interest,” he added.

But Lee and Amend preserved. The two knocked out five of their final stops at the end of February, this time trading the bikes for four-wheeled transportation to historic homes and farm museums.

“We’ve seen enough 18th-century fireplaces for a lifetime,” Amend quipped.

Even as the monotony of the project began to set in, Amend said the exploration of the five boroughs became a sort of fun corollary to their adventure, an excuse to see neighborhoods and experience things that were always in their reach even if they were unaware of them.

She doesn’t know if the group can lay claim to being the only ones to visit all of New York’s museum, but Amend said she hopes New Yorkers might gain an appreciation for the culturally diverse institutions in their own backyards.

“Even if they’re odd, it’s important to have all these spices in the pot,” she said.

Suggested Stops

Overlooked gems worth a visit suggested by museum trekker Allison Amend.

National Jazz Museum in Harlem
Harlem, Manhattan
More of a small event space than a museum, their cultural offerings, linking jazz to other art forms, are top notch.

Hispanic Society of America
Washington Heights, Manhattan
A beautiful building in an unexpected location: highlights include a 360-degree, 20-foot-tall mural by Sorolla, and paintings by Goya, El Greco, Velazquez and Murillo.

Louis Armstrong House
Corona, Queens
A strange look into the trumpeter’s house preserved as if in amber since his wife’s death, including the mod kitchen, the ornate bathroom and even Louis’ hairbrush.

Museum of Chinese in America; Ukrainian Museum
Downtown Manhattan
Two of the best museums of ethnicity in the city.

Fisher Landau Center
Long Island City, Queens
An amazing collection of modern and contemporary art in an unassuming industrial building in Long Island City.

Torah Animal World
Borough Park, Brooklyn
All the animals in the Bible, stuffed and mounted. Not to be missed.

The Noguchi Museum
Long Island City, Queens
Isamu Noguchi’s house and studio, as well as a gorgeous garden, provide a tranquil and appropriately pastoral setting for his serene sculptures.

Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria


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