When you're NYC's oldest museum (founded in 1804) your attic gets mighty full. In past years that fourth floor "attic" had felt like a treasure hunt, its open storage units overflowing with telling artifacts from the museum's holdings—a Tiffany lamp here, a pair of historic pistols there, the plaster model head created by sculptor Daniel Chester French for Washington's Lincoln Memorial in another corner. Alas, the curators decided to tidy up, and in 2017 replaced the open storage with three not-so-successful permanent galleries. The first is a runway of sorts for Tiffany lamps, with too many similar ones on display (they're pretty, but it is overkill). Next is a large room with themed glass cases of artifacts that illustrate—but don't do enough to illuminate—different facets of New York City life through the ages (“Childhood”, “Fire” and “Collecting” are three of these too loosely related exhibits). And the third is a center for women’s history, which had a yawner of an opening show on Dolley Madison. On lower floors other permanent displays include paintings from the Hudson Valley School, and Audubon drawings, making the museum feel more like one dedicated to art than history. Luckily, the powers-that-be had the wisdom to keep the superb 18-minute film that welcomes visitors to the museum. Narrated by Liev Schreiber, it dramatizes the history of the city. It is reason alone to come here, as are some, but not all, of the temporary exhibits—recent offerings have covered tattooing in NYC, the letters of Thomas Jefferson, and how artists approached the First World War.
- Pauline Frommer