Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008
January 31, 2015 – May 31, 2015
The best show is the people themselves. –Reginald Marsh
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland will be the first major exhibition to use visual art as a lens to explore the lure that Coney Island exerted on American culture over a period of 150 years. An extraordinary array of artists viewed Coney Island as a microcosm of the American experience, from its beginnings as a watering hole for the wealthy, through its transformation into an entertainment mecca for the masses, to the closing of Astroland Amusement Park following decades of urban decline. From early depictions of “the people’s beach” by Impressionists William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman to modern and contemporary images by photographers Diane Arbus and Walker Evans, Red Grooms, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Reginald Marsh, Joseph Stella, Swoon and George Tooker, Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland will investigate America’s playground as a place and an idea.
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. What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island and how they chose to portray it varied widely in style and mood over time, mirroring the aspirations and disappointments of the era and of 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 will feature more than 130 objects—paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, and carousel animals—supplemented by ephemera and film clips. This will be the first exhibition in the museum’s newly expanded and renovated special exhibition galleries.
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland will be curated by Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank, Chief Curator and Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture.
A fully-illustrated catalogue, co-published by Yale University Press, will include the first sustained visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island by Frank and essays by distinguished cultural historians.
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland is available for national tour. If your organization is interested in hosting the exhibition, please contact adria.patterson[at]wadsworthatheneum.org for details.
‘Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland’ and exhibition catalogue are generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc., and Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund. Marketing made possible with the support of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of Tourism.
ABOVE: Reginald Marsh (American, 1898–1954), Wooden Horses (detail), 1936, tempera on board; 24 x 40 inches, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, The Dorothy Clark Archibald and Thomas L. Archibald Fund, The Krieble Family Fund for American Art, The American Paintings Purchase Fund, and The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 2013.1.1