Don’t Let This Museum’s Illusions Elude You

Sure beats solitaire: The Clone Table features an arrangement of mirrors that replicate you such that you comprise all the players at a poker table. | Photo by Kenroy Lumsden

BY TRAV S.D. | If you have been wondering about those long lines outside the old Bank Building on the southwest corner of 14th St. and Eighth Ave., we have solved the mystery. As of Sept. 20, the historic structure (built 1907) has been home to an interactive permanent exhibition called the Museum of Illusions. If the name sounds ambiguous (is it an exhibit of famous magic tricks? Of dashed pipe dreams?), the recesses of this new emporium contain still trickier puzzles. It is a showcase for optical, photo, and holographic illusions — over 70 of them in several galleries spread out over two floors.

New York’s Museum of Illusions is the latest in a chain of 19 around the world founded by a Croatian marketing professional named Roko Zivkovic. He opened the first one in Zagreb in 2015; now there are locations in Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg, Athens, and several countries of the Balkans and the Middle East, with plans for new ones in Toronto and Amsterdam. Croatian-American actor Renne Gjoni is the CEO of the New York branch, a hands-on guy who met me at the door and, on a recent and very busy Saturday, launched this correspondent into the museum’s world of wonders.

The Museum of Illusions is equal parts science museum and funhouse, the sort of place that would be right at home in the revitalized Coney Island or Times Square. But a visit to “MOI” (as signs encourage us to call it) and the surrounding neighborhood is a rapid lesson in the interesting fact that Chelsea is now a tourist destination unto itself, with Chelsea Piers, Chelsea Market, the High Line, the Whitney Museum, the Rubin Museum, and lots of shops, art galleries, and restaurants all in the immediate vicinity. The neighborhood suits its latest addition, for the museum is less an educational institution (though it is full of genuine science) than a tourist attraction, as befits an institution founded by a marketing professional. It is aggressively being touted as an “Instagram-worthy” destination. To that end, it seems a perfect place to bring children (even rowdy ones) or parties of high-spirited young adults, fresh from the local drinking establishments. While there is plenty of thought-provoking content on view to entertain the pensive and sedate and the old folks, they may find it hard to concentrate amidst the hustle and bustle of this already popular museum.

Which is not to disparage the experience by any means. I for one was glad to battle the throngs in order to partake of its head-scratching novelties. Some of the highlights include the Ames Room, where forced-perspective causes people and objects to appear larger or smaller than they are, depending on where they are placed. There is a Beuchet Chair, an illusion invented by psychologist Jean Beuchet in the 1960s, where, if the viewer is standing in the right place, a person sitting on a chair looks as small as a doll. There is a room that is completely on its side so that in a photo, it will look like you are standing on the wall. And a tilted room, which simply made me feel dizzy and want to fall down. The Clone Table features an arrangement of mirrors that replicate you such that you comprise all the players at a poker table. The line was longest at the Infinity Room, and once you’re inside, you’ll learn why: You’ll find yourself in a Hall of Mirrors like the one in Orson Welles’ “The Lady from Shanghai.” Once you close the door behind you, you’ll find it difficult to find your way out again.

Take Rubin’s Vase for a spin, and discover how many faces it hides. | Photo by Kenroy Lumsden

Other fun things include a True Mirror (which shows us as we actually look to others rather than the reverse image we see in conventional-looking glasses), a room of colored shadows, and a wall that alternates window glass with strips of mirror so you can exchange noses with the person on the other side. Everywhere you turn there are holograms, kaleidoscopes, stereograms, magic prisms, hypnotic spirals, still images that seem to move or vibrate, and hidden pictures that emerge when looked at in just the right way. As in all such places there is a certain amount of filler, such as wall text featuring angle illusions or Escher-like imagery that could easily be found online or in a book. All of the wall text is excellent, but to spend much time reading it would block someone else’s way.

As it happens, the Museum of Illusions opened at just the right time. It’s the perfect place to go when hosting friends and family for the holidays — or looking for a little bizarre diversion if you want to escape them.

The Museum of Illusions is located at 77 Eighth Ave. (at W. 14th St.). Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Adult ticket, $19; ages 6-13, $15; student, seniors, military, $17; Family ticket (2 adults, 2 children), $53; children under 6 admitted free. For more info, visit or call 212-645-3230 and 212-645-3945.

The Beuchet Chair illusion makes it seem as if a person sitting on a chair is small as a doll. | Photo by Kenroy Lumsden

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