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 140 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 is curated by Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank, Chief Curator and Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture.
A fully-illustrated 304-page catalogue, co-published by Yale University Press, will include the first sustained visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island by Frank, as well as essays by distinguished cultural historians, including Charles Musser, Professor of Film Studies and Media Studies at Yale University; Josh Glick, Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies at Hendrix College, and Mellon Postdoctoral Associate in the Integrated Humanities at Yale University; and John Kasson, Professor of History and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An excerpt by Charles Denson, Executive Director of the Coney Island History Project, will address the future of Coney Island. The catalogue will be sold for $50 in The Museum Shop.
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California, July 11, 2015 – October 13, 2015
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, November 20, 2015 – March 13, 2016
McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas, May 11, 2016 – September 11, 2016
An exclusive preview for members of the press will take place Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 10am. Visit the museum’s press room for more information.
‘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. Support for the Wadsworth Atheneum is provided in part by the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign and the Department of Economic and Community Development, which also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
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