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 is 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 investigates 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 features more than 140 objects—paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, and carousel animals—supplemented by ephemera and film clips. This is 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.
The museum’s latest MATRIX exhibition Michael C. McMillen / MATRIX 171: SIDESHOW, on view January 31 to May 3, is a contemporary art companion piece to Coney Island.
Watch the Coney Island Promotional Trailer:
A fully-illustrated 304-page catalogue, co-published by Yale University Press, includes 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, addresses the future of Coney Island.
The Coney Island exhibition catalogue is available for $50 in the Museum Shop.
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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
The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 18, Coney Island: Signs, Schooners and Spook-A-Rama by Lana Bortolot
The New York Times, Nov. 18, Coney Island: The Cyclone! The Hot Dogs! The Art! by Alan Feuer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 16, 2015, ‘Visions of an American Dreamland:’ New book and Brooklyn Museum exhibition highlight Coney Island by Peter Stamelman
The New York Times, Nov. 15, 2015, Amusement for Everyone by Ken Johnson
Art in America, October 2015, Coney Island Forever by Jonathan Weinberg
Art New England, May/June 2015, Reviving the Grande Dame by Susan Rand Brown
Humanities, May/June 2015, The Coney Island Exhibition That Captures Its Highs and Lows by Tom Christopher
The Magazine Antiques, May/June 2015, Visions of Coney Island by Robin Jaffee Frank
The New York Times, April 19, An American Dreamland, From the Beginning by Sylviane Gold
Artes Magazine, April 16, At Hartford’s Atheneum: ‘Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008’ by Richard Friswell
Hamlet Hub, March 5, Westport Arts Center ArtSpeaks event featuring Robin Jaffee Frank on 3/10
Hyperallergic, March 4, Two Exhibitions Examine the Art of the American Side Show by Laura C. Mallonee
Republican American, March 1, Coney Island R us by Tracey O’Shaughnessy
WNPR, Feb. 24, Where We Live: The Lore and Lure of Coney Island by Betsy Kaplan and John Dankosky
WNPR, Feb. 12, Wadsworth Explores Coney Island, the “Microcosm of the American Experience”
The Modern Art Notes (MAN) Podcast, Feb. 12, No. 171: Dennis V. Geronimus, Robin Jaffee Frank by Tyler Green
The Boston Globe, Feb. 10, Coney Island comes to the Wadsworth Atheneum by Mark Feeney
The Hartford Courant, Jan. 25, Three Satellite Shows Compliment Dynamic ‘Coney Island’ Exhibit at Wadsworth Atheneum
Connecticut Magazine, Jan. 19, ‘American Dreamland’ Coney Island Stars in Wadsworth Atheneum Exhibit
The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 17, Coney Island Comes Alive in Art Show by Ellen Gamerman
Elle Decor, January/February 2015, Boardwalk Empire
ARTnews, January 2015, Editors’ Picks
American Art Review, January 2015, Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland by Robin Jaffee Frank
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861 – 2008 is 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 J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Bank of America, the David T. Langrock Foundation, and the Maximilian E. & Marion O. Hoffman Foundation. 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