What turns an ordinary object into something extraordinary? Put it in a museum. No matter how seemingly odd or mundane, objects offer us windows into history and connect us to our past. They expose our darkest preoccupations, most brilliant ideas, and the limitless creativity of the human mind.
Gunther Von Hagens’s plastination institute displays preserved bodies in creative positions—like this archer—to showcase the intricacies of the human form.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHELE TANTUSSI, GETTY IMAGES
After 39 years studying medicine, dissection, and chemistry, Gunther von Hagens perfected plastination—a controversial process in which polymers are used to preserve human tissue. Visitors who tour the PLASTINARIUM receive a history lesson in anatomy, witness the graphic process of plastination, and can view a showroom of humans and animals in creative poses. The centre also supplies traveling Body Worlds exhibits, which have been the subject of various ethical debates on body procurement and the handling of human remains post-mortem.
THE MOMOFUKU ANDO INSTANT RAMEN MUSEUM
The Instant Noodles Tunnel exhibit displays approximately 800 packages of noodles, revealing the evolution of ramen throughout the decades.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JUNKO KIMURA, GETTY IMAGES
Travelers to Tokyo have the option to visit the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in nearby Yokohama, which features attractions like the Cup Noodles Park.
PHOTOGRAPH BY YURIKO NAKAO, REUTERS/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
In 1958—after a year of experimenting in his backyard shed— Momofuku Ando invented the world’s first instant noodles: Chicken Ramen. The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum documents this chapter of Japan’s food culture, where visitors can view instant noodles packages from around the world, taste limited-edition eats from Hokkaido and Tohoku, Japan, and design their own soup packaging at the My CUPNOODLES Factory.
Museum of Sex
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Visitors get handsy in the Bouncy Castle of Breasts during the “Funland: Pleasures and Perils of the Erotic Fairground” traveling exhibition in New York City.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PIOTR A REDLINSKI, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX
The Museum of Sex opened in 2002 with the intent of preserving the history, evolution, and cultural significance of human sexuality. New York Magazine described a visit to this museum akin to “a Willy Wonka sex dream,” where you can treat your inner kid-adult to a round in the outlandish Bouncy Castle of Breasts or admire vintage erotic photography. The museum hosts temporary exhibitions as well as a permanent collection of over 15,000 artefacts, works of art, photography, costumes, and historical memorabilia—all with the intent of creating an open discourse around sex and sexuality.
INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM
A parade of classic German cars lines up outside of the International Spy Museum during a 2007 anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WIN MCNAMEE, GETTY IMAGES
Washington D.C.’s International Spy Museum features the largest ever public collection of espionage artefacts, shedding light on one of the world’s most secretive professions. Mini cameras, counterfeit money, disguised weapons, and cipher machines reveal the role of human intelligence and spies throughout history. Visitors can participate in interactive spy adventures, adopt their own covers, and unearth the stories behind the world’s most elusive spies through historic photographs and video interviews.
THE MUMMY MUSEUM
A mummified child sits on display at the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, one of Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DANITA DELIMONT, GETTY IMAGES
In the small mining town of Guanajuato—a UNESCO World Heritage site—hundreds of bodies were buried in the Santa Paula Pantheon’s crypts during the mid-19th century. If families were unable to pay a burial tax imposed by the town, the bodies were exhumed. It was then that they discovered the bodies had been mummified through a natural process, likely due to the region’s unique climactic factors. Their ghoulish corpses—including those of infants—are now on display at the Museo de Las Momias, or Mummy Museum.
CANCUN UNDERWATER MUSEUM
Cancun's underwater museum is a collaboration between biologists and artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who created an “urban reef” that fosters diverse marine life.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON DECAIRES TAYLOR, EPA/REDUX
Constructed in 2009 in the azure waters surrounding Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Punta Nizuc, Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA) features over 500 life-size sculptures fixed to the sea floor. The oceanic art doubles as an artificial reef specially designed to promote the growth of coral, which continually transforms the aquatic landscape. The result is an eerily beautiful visual representation of humans’ interaction with the environment. Visitors can explore the museum by glass bottom boat, snorkelling, or scuba diving.
ICELAND PHALLOLOGICAL MUSEUM
More than 200 penises and penile parts belonging to various land and sea mammals are displayed in Iceland’s Phallological Museum.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ARCTIC IMAGES/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Dedicated to the study of phallology, this museum displays over 215 penises and penile parts of land and sea mammals. Specimens from whales, elephants, walruses, and homo sapiens are on display, along with a collection of eclectic phallic art. The museum’s founder, Sigurður Hjartarson, developed a lifelong fascination with phallology when he received a pizzle (bull’s penis) as a child—a device used as a whip for farm animals. In 1974, he started collecting whale penises, and opened the original museum in 1990 after accumulating a significant collection.
SULABH INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF TOILETS
NEW DELHI, INDIA
An employee of the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, India, presents a vintage toilet used in the 1930s.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RAVEENDRAN, AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Located in India’s buzzing capital, the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets details the history of hygiene and sanitation from 2500 B.C. to present day. From the gold-plated toilets of Roman emperors to medieval commodes, the museum documents the evolution of the toilet through the ages. As if intricately painted chamber pots weren’t fascinating enough, the museum also hosts a collection of rare toilet poems.
The Torture Museum's eerie inquisition chair display features enlarged images from old books and articles that reveal the history of the device and its uses.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHIEL VAARTJES, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Among the lively bars and hotels in the heart of Amsterdam, this sinister museum transports visitors back in time to Europe’s dark history, when torture and execution were commonplace. From the spike-covered inquisition chair to decapitation swords, the museum displays over 40 instruments used in the interrogations of suspected criminals, witches, and political prisoners. The museum also educates students on modern torture—still practiced in nearly 100 countries—and pledges its support for the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
VENT HAVEN VENTRILOQUIST MUSEUM
FORT MITCHELL, KENTUCKY
Smiling ventriloquist dolls fill rows of seats at the Vent Haven Museum in Kentucky.
PHOTOGRAPH BY EDWARD ROTHSTEIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX
In 1910, William Shakespeare Berger bought his first dummy: Tommy Baloney. By 1947, his collection had grown so large he renovated his garage to house the figures, and in 1962, he had to construct a second building. Today, Vent Haven Museum—the only one of its kind—displays more than 800 dummies, photos, playbills, and historical books from Berger’s collection. The museum also hosts the annual ConVENTion, a ventriloquist meeting that attracts professionals and enthusiasts from around the world.
Header Image: A diver drifts over a submerged vehicle at MUSA, the underwater museum of contemporary art in Cancun, Mexico. PHOTOGRAPH BY MAURICIO COLLADO, XINHUA/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO