NYC’s newest art museum is completely fake

The sign on the door at 393 Broadway says “closed for installation,” but artist Robin Eley hopes you’ll break the rules and enter anyway. 

If you do, you’ll find a fictional museum called the New or Traditional Art Museum (NOTaMUSEUM) where it appears that a show featuring some of the greatest artworks of all time is about to open. But the artworks are actually Eley’s recreations of pieces that are usually not available to the public because they’re privately held, lost, or stolen. Eley created the pieces in stunning detail, painting an illusionary layer of bubble wrap or tape atop each one with such realistic brushwork that the veiled artwork looks three-dimensional. 

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A painting sits on a ladder and a sculpture stands in front of a wooden art crate.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan | It looks like a museum, but it’s not.

Called “Private Collection / Closed for Installation,” the show is free to visit from September 17 through September 25. The works have never been shown together before, and they’ll never be shown together again as each piece is already sold and will soon head to their buyers.

The show features 17 oil paintings and one bronze sculpture depicting artwork such as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Dustheads,” Pablo Picasso’s “Le Rêve,” Andy Warhol’s “Turquoise Marilyn,” Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” Vincent van Gogh’s “Three Sunflowers,” Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Frida Kahlo’s”Self Portrait with a Monkey,” and Alberto Giacometti’s “L’Homme au doigt” sculpture. Eley created each hyperrealistic piece over the course of four years, amazingly echoing post-impressionism, pop art, cubism, and more. 

The artwork pairs well with the remarkably accurate set design by renowned creative director David Korins (he did the set design for Hamilton and designed the mega-popular Immersive van Gogh experience). It may be NOTaMUSEUM, but Korins transformed a blank space to make it feel like you’re in a museum with diagonal hardwood floors, rich colors on the walls, and ornate moldings. Korins designed the show to look as if it’s in the process of being installed with moving pads, tools, and wooden crates adorning the room. He also added “Easter eggs” of sorts throughout the gallery, like a bullet near the Warhol painting as a nod to the story of the shot paintings.

“From a dramatic storytelling point of view, it’s incredibly rich,” Korins said. 

As co-producers, Korins and Eley presented the work as veiled pieces in crates to explore what it means to keep artwork out of public reach and to prompt discussions about art’s public value. 

“The idea of the exhibition is about access. It’s about privilege,” Eley said, adding that it’s also about commodification, especially in the digital era. Take, for example, van Gogh’s sunflowers. Van Gogh painted the sunflowers as simple decorations for his studio. Paintings like this present a paradox, Eley explained: We all know these works because they’re extremely famous and easy to access online, but the works are also wildly expensive and truly accessible by very few. The sunflowers paintings would sell for billions, he said, a “complete change from what the artist intended.” 

A depiction of Pablo Picasso's Le Rêve veiled in plastic wrap and tape.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan | A depiction of Pablo Picasso’s Le Rêve.

Artworks have also become currency for the extremely rich, and that often means the public doesn’t get a chance to view the original pieces. The ultra controversial painting “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci is owned by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, who apparently refused to show it at the Louvre because of questions about its authenticity. Eley presents his own spin on the painting at NOTaMUSEUM. 

Given the high value of some pieces, they’re ripe for theft, and Eley wanted to pay homage to works that have been pilfered, like Rembrandt’s painting “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” nicked in one of the most notorious art heists. 

“The idea of this museum is it’s been able to conjure these pieces out of thin air,” he said. 

Visit NOTaMUSEUM at Lume Studios (393 Broadway in Manhattan) from September 17 through September 25 (10am-6pm). The show is free and reservations/tickets are not required. 

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