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Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

January 31 - May 31, 2015


The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art presents Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, an exhibition that explores the magnetic lure that Coney Island exerted, over a period of 150 years, on an extraordinary array of artists who viewed the iconic place as a microcosm of the American experience. (right: William Merritt Chase, Landscape, near Coney Island, c. 1886, oil on panel, The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, NY, Gift of Mary H. Beeman to the Pruyn Family Collection, 1995.12.7)

Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland is the first major art exhibition to investigate America's playground as a place and an idea, 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. Coney Island features more than 140 objects, including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, and carousel animals, supplemented by film clips, sound recordings, and ephemera that immerse visitors in the popular culture of Coney Island.

What artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island and how they chose to depict it varied widely in style and mood, mirroring the aspirations and disappointments of the times. The exhibition includes icons of American art: among them Joseph Stella's Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras, a monumental Cubo-Futurist canvas that captures the resort's machine-age vitality; and some of Reginald Marsh's most beloved social-realist scenes, each one embodying his observation that "the best show is the people themselves." Many of the artists represented in the exhibition are well known -- nineteenth-century Hudson River School painter Sanford Robinson Gifford; Impressionists William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman; twentieth-century Ashcan School painter William Glackens; representational modernists Milton Avery and Yasuo Kuniyoshi; Magic Realists Henry Koerner and George Tooker; abstractionist Frank Stella; photographers Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Weegee, and Garry Winogrand; contemporary artists Sue Coe, Red Grooms, and Arnold Mesches. Equally remarkable works are by lesser-known artists, among them African American expressionist painter Joseph Delaney and many immigrants, including modernists Abraham Walkowitz and Louis Lozowick, all of whom came to paint "the people's beach." Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares, become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation. (left: Daze, Coney Island Pier, 1995, oil on canvas, Collection of the artist)

The exhibition illustrates how artists' visions of Coney Island became a vehicle to imagine the future and later recall the past; to convey changing ideas about leisure; and to experience the unprecedented mixing of people from different racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, transcending social boundaries within American society. The show traces the rise, decline, and struggle of the resort to be reborn, revealing how and why this place became part of America's shared memory. Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland is curated by Robin Jaffee Frank, Chief Curator and Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture.

Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 has been generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc. and The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Bank of America, and the David T. Langrock Foundation.


Related Programming

An array of educational, member and public programs about, and inspired by, the exhibition are being held. For details visit, http://thewadsworth.org/coneyisland. Progamming includes:

February 5, 2015 - First Thursday: Coney Island: Tunnel of Love
February 5, 2015 - Film: The Gilded Lily
February 7, 2015 - CONNetic Dance's Coney Island: Love Under the Boardwalk
February 11, 2015 - Free Lecture: Robin Jaffee Frank, Coney Island: The Melting Pot at Play
February 12-14, 2015 - HSO Concert Featuring Leonard Bernstein's On the Town
February 18, 2015 - Evening for Educators: Coney Island (for PreK-12 teachers)
February 27, 2015 - Coney Island USA presents the Coney Island Circus Sideshow
February 28, 2015 - Coney Island Symposium: An Intersection of Art & Identity
March 1, 2015 - Music & Movies with Alloy Orchestra
March 7, 2015 - Films: Weegee's New York, Coney Island at Night, and The Crowd
March 12, 2015 - Gallery Talk: Artist DAZE
March 14, 2015 - Second Saturdays: Circus Dreams
March 27, 2015 - Talk: Andrew Miller, Flying Horses: The History of the Carousel
April 1, 2015 - Free Talk: Harvey Stein, Coney Island 40 Years
April 10, 2015 - Gallery Talk: Bob Yorburg, Coney Island Revealed
April 10, 2015 - The MOuTH: Thrown for a Loop
April 12, 2015 - Jazz Brunch: Carol Lipnik & Spookarama
April 12, 2015 - Films: Annie Hall and Sophie's Choice
April 16, 2015 - Talk, Sideshow & Film: Freaks (with Rachel Adams & Jennifer Miller)
April 19, 2015 - Film: Enemies, A Love Story
April 26, 2015 - Film: Imitation of Life
May 7, 2015 - Gallery Talk: Erin Monroe, Coney Island: A Photographic History
May 7, 2015 - First Thursday Block Party: Dreamland
May 7, 2015 - Film: The Devil and Miss Jones
May 9, 2015 - Second Saturdays: A Coney Island Carnival
May 9, 2015 - Film: Little Fugitive
May 17, 2015 - Gallery Talk: Robin Jaffee Frank, America's Playgroud
May 17, 2015 - Sunday Serenades with HSO: Copland & Coney Island


Michael C. McMillen / MATRIX 171

The 171st installment of the Wadsworth Atheneum's pioneering contemporary art exhibition series, "Michael C. McMillen / MATRIX 171: Side Show," compliments "Coney Island" through an installation of moving shadows, light, and wall projections that create an atmospheric setting for a collection of unusual curiosities and mysterious artifacts. More information is available at, http://thewadsworth.org/matrix171.




The Wadsworth Atheneum is collaborating with several other organizations in the Greater Hartford area and surrounding region to present auxiliary programming related to "Coney Island." Satellite exhibitions being organized to compliment the exhibition are: "Sideshow," January 13 - March 20, at Edgewood Gallery, Yale University School of Art in New Haven, Conn.; "Skeeball," January 15 - May 31, at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Conn.; and "Coney Island: Side Show," January 23 - March 14, at Westport Arts Center in Westport, Conn.

Additional programs are being presented in partnership with the Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut Humanities, Hartford Public Library, Hartford History Center; Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Mark Twain House & Museum and New England Carousel Museum. Details about collaborations and related programs are available at, http://thewadsworth.org/coneyisland.



Exhibition Catalogue

To accompany the exhibition, the Yale University Press and Wadsworth Atheneum have co-published a 304-page major scholarly catalogue of the same name, written to be engaging to a general audience. Fully illustrated with all the artworks as well as memorable film stills, the book includes the first sustained visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island by Dr. Frank and 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 F. Kasson, Professor of History and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and author of Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century, the seminal book on the subject. Charles Denson, Executive Director of the Coney Island History Project, addresses the future of Coney Island. The book may be purchased from the Museum Shop or the YUP site.

National Tour

"Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861 - 2008" will tour to three additional venues: San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, Calif., July 11, 2015 - Oct. 13, 2015; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2015 - March 13, 2016; and McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas, May 11, 2016 - Sept. 11, 2016.


(above: Red Grooms, Weegee 1940, 1998-99, acrylic on paper, Private Collection. Image Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York; © 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)


(above: Reginald Marsh, Wooden Horses, 1936, tempera on board, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, 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. © 2013 Estate of Reginald Marsh / Art Students League, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)


(above: Joseph Stella, Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras, 1913-14, oil on canvas, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, Gift of Collection Société Anonyme, 1941.689)


To view the checklist for the exhibition please click here.


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