So much has changed in 100 years in New York City, and yet…
This article is part of our dedicated Museums section on how art institutions reach new artists and attract new audiences.
You know that life in the Big Apple has changed in the last 100 years. But when was the last time you stopped to think about how much? Or in some cases, how little?
A new exhibit celebrating the centennial of the Museum of the City of New York will remind you.
Take, for example, the commuter, Speedy, played by Harold Lloyd in the 1928 silent film of the same name, and Michael Richards’ Kramer from the long-running television series “Seinfeld”. Both are faced with the decades-old problem of finding a satisfactory seat on a subway, as clips of the actors’ work show.
Or think about the costumes the cast wears in the television series “Pose,” about the city’s underground ball culture, as well as the robe and gloves worn by Robert De Niro, who starred in the movie “Raging Bull,” portraying boxer Jake LaMotta. These characters from different eras are synonymous with the city in their own way.
And the oldest object in the exhibition, a 1923-1924 lithograph of George Bellows’s painting “Dempsey and Firpo,” and the newest, Cheyenne Julien’s 2023 painting, “Salsa Sundays at Orchard Beach,” show how New York’s creativity by countless artists of the past century.
The entire third floor of the museum – on Fifth Avenue, between 103rd and 104th Streets at the top of Manhattan’s Museum Mile – will feature the exhibit “This is New York: 100 Years of the City in Art and Pop Culture.” display from May 26, 2023 through July 31, 2024.
Among the topics that will be explored are New York’s streets and subways; his songs; its representation by artists, photographers and filmmakers; and the space of domesticity there.
The museum was founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown, a Scottish-born writer and conservationist. The original goal was to appeal to children and immigrants, to focus on exhibitions and to “emphasize the lives of ordinary New Yorkers,” according to research recently published by the Gotham Center for New York City History, which is being sponsored by the Graduate Center of New York City University.
It was first located in Gracie Mansion, a historic home owned by the Parks Department, today the mayor’s official residence.
In 1928, the city offered the museum the site where the current home was later built, a Georgian Colonial Revival building built between 1929 and 1932 and designated a landmark in 1967. It underwent a 10-year renovation and modernization project that was completed in 2015.
Today, the museum’s collection includes more than 750,000 objects, ranging from paintings, prints, and photographs to decorative arts, toys, and theatrical memorabilia.
Notable possessions include Eugene O’Neill’s handwritten manuscripts of some of his plays; 412 glass negatives from the collection of pioneering photographer Jacob Riis documenting the living conditions of the urban poor; and the Stettheimer Dollhouse, which contains a miniature painting by Marcel Duchamp.
A highlight of the exhibition is an exploration of New York’s songs, featuring music from the city’s five boroughs, inspired by the subways and streets.
Each neighborhood is represented by a sketch on the gallery floor. When people enter a particular neighborhood, snippets of a song are played through a speaker mounted on the ceiling, while images or video and information about the song are projected onto the gallery wall. The music featured here ranges from Mills Brothers’ 1931 “Coney Island Washboard” in tribute to Brooklyn, to Jennifer Lopez’s 2002 paean to the Bronx, “Jenny from the Block.”
A unique feature of the “At Home in New York” section of the exhibit will be a reading room furnished with what the museum describes as “a digital bookshelf.” It will be towards the end of the gallery, filled with books and VHS or DVD boxes, all embedded with a radio frequency identification tag. Visitors can choose an item from the bookshelf and place it on a docking station at the end of the gallery that reads the barcode on the tag and projects the appropriate audio or video.
Among the more than 20 books on the bookshelf are “The Enormous Radio” by John Cheever, read by Matthew Broderick, and “Harriet the Spy,” written and illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh and read by Lea DeLaria. TV shows range from ‘The Honeymooners’ and ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Living Single’. All works shown are set in New York and depict life at home there.
The “Destination NYC” section of the exhibit features works by artists and photographers — such as Edward Hopper, Romare Bearden, Nan Goldin, and Faith Ringgold — depicting places where New Yorkers spend their leisure time, including restaurants, nightclubs, bars, parks, fire escapes, rooftops and waterfronts such as Coney Island and Orchard Beach.
Another highlight is “You Are Here,” an immersive movie experience created in partnership with RadicalMedia, a media and communications company based in lower Manhattan. Working with a committee of filmmakers’ curators and other experts, RadicalMedia selected more than 400 films made since the museum’s inception.
According to RadicalMedia Chairman and CEO Jon Kamen, “bits and pieces” of these films, which represent “sound clips of everything we love and love about New York,” have been put together into a 20-minute film that will be projected on 16 screens in one of the exhibition rooms.
The oldest of the films shown is ‘Manhandled’, a 1924 silent film starring Gloria Swanson, while the latest is Questlove’s 2021 film ‘Summer of Soul’, about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which won an Academy Award for best documentary won. feature film and of which Mr. Kamen was executive producer.
Sarah Henry, the museum’s interim director and chief curator, said the goal since its inception has been “to preserve and interpret the memory of the past and participate in the contemporary life of the city.”
Noting that “everyone has a love-hate relationship with the city,” she said, “this is a great time to celebrate and rediscover New York as we recover from the blow of the pandemic and reflect on where we are going .”