Long a staple on every “quirky NYC museums” roundup (we certainly mentioned it in ours!), the Lower East Side Troll Museum lived at 124 Orchard Street since 2000. Its 400+ troll dolls were displayed throughout the apartment of Reverend Jen Miller, a Downtown NYC “art star,” performance artist, author, filmmaker, and founder and emcee of the long-running alternative open mic The Anti-Slam and the annual NSFW extravaganza Mister Lower East Side Pageant.
Tragically, after 21 years (including four spent in housing court), Rev Jen was forcibly evicted from her home in June, where she was one of only three remaining rent-controlled tenants in the building. She was given just a few hours to vacate, and then a half-day the following week to remove two decades of possessions–including the entire Troll Museum. In a Facebook lament, Rev Jen said, “The Lower East Side used to be a great neighborhood but has now turned into the greediest shitshow on earth.” Just like that, one of the most emphatically eccentric little secrets in this ever-more-sterilized city of ours was gone.
In a tiny sort of silver lining, a friend connected her with the art gallery / community space Chinatown Soup, just a few blocks from where the Troll Museum proudly stood for 16 years. On Tuesday, “Troll Museum Resurrection” opened as a temporary exhibition, and it will be up for one week, until August 23rd. “I thought this was something that could energize me, and also energize the neighborhood,” Rev Jen told Brooklyn Magazine. “And also take my mind off my fucking harsh reality right now.”
Though Rev Jen claims that no one has ever been able to count how many trolls the museum comprised, she says that about 60 percent of them are on display at Chinatown Soup, from tiny keychain-size trolls to three-foot plush stuffed ones. There are silver alien trolls and red-hatted Christmas trolls, sexy Bratz-esque trolls and a pompadoured Elvis troll, nurse trolls, karate trolls, jester trolls, a troll riding a Chihuahua wearing sunglasses. In addition to the myriad dolls, there are troll-themed items, from lunchboxes to playing cards to VHS tapes, and troll-inspired paintings, drawings, and collages (there’s even one of Donald Trump as a troll). There’s an illustrated explanation of the different companies that manufactured troll dolls and the identifying characteristics of each, and there’s the original donation box that Rev Jen kept in the museum all these years. (Suggested donation is $3,000.)
Rev Jen’s favorite troll of all is there too, but you’ll have to look hard to find it. It’s a teeny-tiny gumball-machine troll with no eyes that she named Tiresias, after the blind soothsayer in the Oedipus myth. Tiresias was a gift from her first boyfriend, and she strung it on a cord and made it into a necklace, which she “loved so much I wore it completely to death.”
The exhibit also includes some of Rev Jen’s own art. “I figured, I’m 44, it’s not like anyone’s jumping to offer me a mid-career retrospective, so I might as well show some drawings here,” she said. Since most of her focus these days is on raising money for a new home for herself and the museum, there’s a merch table with Troll Museum t-shirts, koozies, and coloring books, and much of what’s on display throughout the exhibit can be purchased as well. “Honestly, I wish MoMA would just flat-out buy the whole thing,” she says. Until that institution comes knocking, though, she’s willing to part with most of what she’s got. “Everything here is for sale!” she says at first, then backtracks: “Well, some trolls aren’t. I don’t know. Some are too special.”
Photos by Walter Wlodarczyk