An exhibit on the People’s Playground opening today at the Brooklyn Museum is as colorful and surprising as its subject, Coney Island’s many incarnations, from beach resort to nickel empire and back again.
Making use of a variety of mediums, including sculpture, film clips, arcade games, artifacts, and site-specific installations, the exhibit’s three parts are a trifecta of powerful nostalgia, telling not just Coney but America’s history through their immigrant portraits and beach-day entertainments.
The main section, Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861 – 2008 includes carousel horses and an installation by Swoon. Forever Coney displays photographs of Coney Island. Artist Stephen Powers has created a site-specific installation, Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull), pictured above, one of the three parts of the exhibit.
A canvas circa 1879 depicts a Punch and Judy puppet show on the sand, with a stately African-American couple watching undisturbed a few steps back. A 1932 Reginald Marsh tempera piece shows sideshow freaks under a banner reading “Mrs. Jack Legs Diamond,” in reference to the then recently widowed wife of a Philly gangster of the same name. History seeps through the art.
“Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation,” said exhibition curator Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank of the more than 140 objects on display.
The exhibit conveys both Coney’s cinematic nature and its gritty essence. There is a sense of community in the photos, even though many depict seeming strangers. And isn’t that what New York’s all about?
Located on the fifth floor of the museum, the exhibit will be on display from November 20 through March 13, 2016.
[Photos: Hannah Frishberg]