The exhibition will trace the evolution of the Coney Island phenomenon from tourist destination during the Civil War to a site of nostalgia. Covering a period of 150 years, the exhibition will feature 140 objects, including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera, and film clips. Also on view will be Forever Coney, 42 photographs from the Brooklyn Museum collection.
An array of artists have viewed Coney Island as a microcosm of the American experience and used their works to investigate the area as both a place and an idea. Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland offers up early depictions of “the people’s beach” by Impressionists William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman; modernist depictions of the amusement park by Joseph Stella; Depression-era scenes of cheap thrills by Reginald Marsh; photographs by Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Weegee, and Bruce Davidson; and contemporary works by Daze and Swoon.
“The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” said Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank, exhibition curator. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 is organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. The Brooklyn presentation is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator, Arts of the Americas and Europe, Brooklyn Museum.
An illustrated 304-page catalogue, co-published by Yale University Press and the Wadsworth Athenaeum, incorporates a visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island by Dr. Frank as well as essays by distinguished cultural historians.
For more information about the exhibition or the museum, visit www.brooklynmuseum.org.
Photo: Harvey Stein (American, b. 1941), “The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile, 1982” Courtesy Harvey Stein.