New York’s Weirdest Antique Shop

A photo of a preserved animal fetus inside a glass jar. It is soaked in formaldehyde.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

At a normal antique shop, you’ll find vintage furniture, aged photographs, worn-out old clothing, and collector’s items. But Obscura Antiques and Oddities is anything but normal. The shop specializes in historical anatomy items.

Among the things you can expect to see there? A zebra foot lamp, raccoon penis bones (the proper term is baculum), mortician A/V plugs, and even preserved pig fetuses. It’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill antique shop, and it goes without saying that it’s not for the faint of heart.

But surprisingly, the shop has been in business for more than 20 years. It goes to show that there is indeed a market for these kinds of artifacts. But who would buy a raccoon penis bone and why? That I don’t know, and I’m not so sure I want to find out either.

All I know is that personally, it’s not my cup of tea. Perhaps if I were a doctor or a taxidermist I would find it more enthralling. Instead, I find it rather morbid.

With that being said, there are people who thoroughly enjoy it. To their credit, Obscura Antiques and Oddities is delightfully unique, a tad bit interesting, and certainly peculiar.

Yelp users gave the shop 4 out of 5 stars. Visitors cited the shop’s friendly staff, extraordinary objects, and quirky atmosphere as reasons why they enjoyed the place.

However, on the downside, visitors also said that the items tended to be a bit pricey. Indeed, an antique medicine bottle will run you $65.00.

Another reason to pop in? The shop has been featured on Discovery’s The Science Channel. The TV show was doing a segment on oddities and sure enough, Obscura Antiques and Oddities made the cut.

So where is Obscura Antiques and Oddities? Their official street address is 207 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009. If you end up visiting or have previously been there, drop a comment below! I want to know what you thought of it.

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The Museum of Sex

The entrance to the Museum of Sex.

The entrance to New York’s Museum of Sex.
Photo credit: Osugi / Shutterstock

The Museum of Sex (MoSex) is fairly new to the New York museum scene. Established in 2002, the museum was created to chronicle the history, evolution, and societal impact of human sexuality. As can be expected, admission is strictly limited to ages 18+.

Also to be expected is the variety of bizarre exhibitions that are on display. For example, while general admission is $18.50 ($16.50 for students, seniors, and military) there is an additional $3.00 charge to gain entry into the Jump for Joy: Bouncy Castle of Breasts exhibit.

According to the Museum of Sex website, “Jump for Joy is designed to increase awareness of the body and to create the thrilling possibility of physical contact between strangers.” Yuck. Personally, I don’t find the idea of strangers touching my body to be “thrilling.” But, to each’s own…

Other strange exhibits include The Sex Lives of Animals. It’s pretty self-explanatory, with 3D sculptures of animals humping each other. One sculpture depicts a deer threesome; a doe takes it from behind by a stag, the stag takes it from behind by another stag.

Then there’s Splendor in the Grass: Kinesthetic Camping Ground. This exhibit is designed to arouse visitors by creating a sort of “sexy campground atmosphere” that’s complete with forestry, a campfire, live rangers, and a moving sky. There are five interactive camping tents that “connect the visitor to phases of sexual stimulation and the thrill of arousal in an encounter that is both whimsical and titillating.” It’s unclear exactly what goes on in these tents…

And last but not least, there’s Hardcore: A Century & a Half of Obscene Imagery. Of all the exhibits mentioned so far, this one is the most intellectually stimulating. Still, the only thing it arouses is curiosity. The exhibit is a series of pornographic photographs taken from the mid to late 19th century. The photographs prove that hardcore erotica is not an invention of the 21st century, but rather, has been around for quite some time. The photos depict everything from group sex to homosexual acts to sex toy use.

All in all, the Museum of Sex is at best interesting and at worst completely tasteless. However, let it be known that in no way, shape, or form does it qualify as an art museum.

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The Book of Mormon: Reviving the Musical

A photo of Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker (the creators of South Park) helped write the Book of Mormon musical. Photo credit: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

The Book of Mormon is a musical that took the world by surprise. The two authors (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) are no strangers to satire as they are also the creators of South Park. About ten years ago, they came up with the idea to write a musical about Mormonism. The musical made its first debut in 2011. They wrote the musical alongside Robert Lopez who wrote Avenue Q. Since then, it has won nine Tony awards and has toured both nationally and internationally.

The Book of Mormon is about two American Mormons who go to Uganda on a mission trip to convert the locals. They are a dynamic duo to say the least. One missionary is enthusiastic in his dedication to his faith. The other is an awkward, well-meaning nerd who has a tendency to embellish the truth. Arriving in Uganda opens their naive eyes to poverty, AIDS, and violence. Clearly, their mission doesn’t go according to their expectations.

While many were excited simply to see a show that satirized the Mormon religion, the message was more complex than that. If one had to sum it up simply it would be that tolerance is important and that one should never take anything to the extreme. It discusses not just the Mormon religion, but the human interest in myths and folklore. But don’t worry, the Mormon religion itself still gets plenty of satirical attention.

The Book of Mormon has defied expectations in the sense that a ton of people have come out to see the Broadway show. The multi-dimensionality of the script as well as the execution by the cast and crew has been credited with the revival of the musical in an era where most people would rather stay at home and watch Netflix than go to the theater.

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A photo of New York City at dawn.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Six New York City artists asked one another a simple question: What does New York City mean to you? Their responses are the inspiration behind Urbanscapes; a traveling art installation moving throughout NYC this autumn.

Sponsored by Arts Brookfield (an art commission dedicated to bringing free cultural experiences to urban centers around the world) the exhibition is about New York as a home.

A sampling of the artworks are as follows.

Semblance of Normality: Amanda Mathis

A collection of cast-aside home objects including: old flooring, a broken chair, and scruffy old paint. The assemblage embraces a model of an old house using a three-dimensional collage.

Andamio: Pedro Cruz-Castro

Reclaimed furniture and recycled timbers make a compact, geometrical shape that evokes a building under construction or destruction, somehow both stable and frail, both new and decomposing.

Grit and Mother-Wit: Erin Sweeny

Sweeny found a paperback copy of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells on the sidewalk in Brooklyn one day. She put it to unusual use by pulping the water-damaged pages, making a dark red paper clay that she sculpted into an enclosing amorphous form.

Walk Dreamer: Isidro Blasco

This sculpture is like an image out of a dreampanoramic photos of New York street scenes merge and meld with wooden sculpture into an inverted hourglass of surreal shapes in which buildings are mirrored and distorted.

All of the pieces involve spatial distortion in some waya scene or object twisted out of its normal form, forced into new perspectives; warped, blown apart, destroyed and reformed into something entirely new. Is this, too, a comment on life in New York city?

The exhibition’s curator, Tom Kotik, says that all six artists “share a common ability to absorb and visualize the ever-changing city around them.”

Urbanscapes is free for the public to view and will be on exhibition at 245 Park Avenue through the end of September. Afterward, it will move to the One Liberty Plaza from October 3 – November 4.

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George Kravis Donates Industrial Design Collection to Cooper Hewitt

A photo of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

Photo credit: Osugi / Shutterstock

Long-time industrial design collector George R. Kravis II recently donated a number of fascinating objects to the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Institute in New York City.

Energizing the Everyday: Gifts from the George R. Kravis II Collection features some of the most influential objects in the history of industrial design through the 20th and early 21st century. From radios to furniture, made in the U.S. and around the world, this fascinating group of objects reflects the history and cultural zeitgeist of the times in which they were created.

Some of the notable objects in the collection include designer Norman Bel Geddes’ ca. 1931 Manhattan cocktail set, designer Cesare Cassati’s and C. Emanuele Ponzio’s 1968 Pillola lamps, and artist Olafur Eliasson’s Little Sun solar-powered LED lantern of 2012.

Other items include a 1939 Gilbert Rohde vanity and a Castiglioni stereo cabinet from the 1960s.

An early fascination with records and a background in broadcasting motivated Kravis to begin his collecting with objects in this genre, but he later expanded his collecting efforts to include industrial design and furnishings from the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

As a collector, Kravis looks not only to the object’s purpose but also to its aesthetic, and that clearly shows through in this collection.

If you can’t get to New York to take in the exhibit, you can view the entire collection online thanks to the Cooper Hewitt’s online gallery.

In 2016, the Kravis Design Center published a coffee table book, 100 Designs for the Modern World, featuring selected pieces from the Kravis collection. A beautifully photographed publication, it’s well worth a look and it would be a great addition to any art enthusiast’s book collection.

The exhibit will be on display through March 12, 2017.

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When Abstract Art Meets Architecture

A photo of a unique home.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley have been back for yet another round of their particular art scene: performance architecture. These two artists are veterans of the genre they invented, having lived together for short spans in “houses” designed after hamster wheels, climbing walls, and seesaws. This time, it’s a pivot.

“Reactor” is a house, forty feet by eight feet, almost entirely made of windows, and balanced on a single point atop a concrete pillar. In a field at the Omi International Arts Center in Ghent, New York, just an hour north of New York City, they dipped and swayed and wobbled for five days, living in their RV-sized space. It moved with every breeze and with the steps of each tenant, making them utterly aware of one another. Irregular weather had dramatic effects on their daily routines, and the boat-like motion was calming, according to their journal entries, which they shared with the New York Times. A video of their spinning home can be found here.

“Reactor” is only the latest in the pair’s series of co-habitative works. In 2013, they spent six days in “Orbit,” a wheel-like installation where one lived inside the wheel, the other outside, and they had to cooperate to arrange the fixtures for use. In 2011, they performed in “Counterweight Roommate,” a vertical structure that they had to navigate in tandem, being tied together. If one wanted to go up, the other had to go down. “Stability,” which was in Seattle, Washington in 2009, was probably the predecessor-in-spirit to “Reactor,” being two micro-apartments suspended by a chain from a central point, so that the artists’ movements made the structure seesaw wildly.

Although their five-day residence in “Reactor” was in July, the pivot-point house continues to dip and sway in the breeze in the field outside the Omi International Arts Center, and will remain there until 2018. Schweder and Shelley will return in late September and mid-October for two more brief spells in the structure.

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The Morbid Anatomy Museum Showcases Dead Kittens

An image of a cat laying on top of a human skull.

Image: Shutterstock

In what is probably New York’s strangest museum, the Morbid Anatomy Museum features exhibits centered on the theme of death. Their latest exhibit, Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding, is dark to say the least. Two preserved kittens, dressed in formal wedding attire, stand face-to-face, as if to exchange vows.

The Kittens’ Wedding was created by Walter Potter circa 1890. The British Victorian taxidermist was known for taking small animals such as kittens, bunnies, and squirrels and posing them in human scenarios. One of his pieces, titled Gambling Squirrels, features two squirrels sitting across the table from one another. One puffs on a pipe. The other holds a deck of cards.

But for as macabre as it sounds, taxidermy is actually fairly common. The practice dates back to ancient Egypt, where cats, crocodiles, and even humans were mummified as part of sacred rituals. But in recent years, taxidermy has evolved to become an art-of-science, so to speak. In 19th century England, for example, there was a spike in the demand for preserved animals. During this time, the upper class equated taxidermy with the study of anatomy, which was a highly revered subject. Preserved animals were a symbol of intelligence, wealth, and social status.

But Potter was the first taxidermist to turn this practice into an art. His anthropomorphic style became the focus of much debate. In what many would describe as being a cruel and inhumane practice, others would describe as being a thought-provoking reflection on the historical relationship between humans and animals. It’s definitely an exhibit that challenges visitors to have an open mind.

Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding opened on September 1 and is running through November 6, 2016.

Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for students and senior citizens. Children 12 and under are free. Admission includes entry into the museum’s library, which has a wide collection of books, photographs, drawings, paintings, and artifacts related to anatomy and taxidermy.

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