The Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor hosted an opening reception for its latest exhibit New York, New York this past Friday evening. The works on display reflect a century of the City’s demographic and physical transformation from the pre-World War I tidal wave of immigrants and skyscraper building boom through the post 9/11 period. Through a variety of media including oil paintings, prints, photography, and sculpture the showcase emphasizes the experiences of “ordinary” New Yorkers -- in some cases the mundaneness of daily existence and in others the excitement of urban life - whether it is at work, on the streets, in the subways or at leisure, at night clubs and bars or enjoying Coney Island. Guest curated by Museum Director Emerita Constance Schwartz, the exhibit features more than 140 pieces that include works by John Sloan, Reginald Marsh, Childe Hassam, Red Grooms, Robert Henri, Fairfield Porter, Berenice Abbott, Milton Avery, Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Leipzig and many others.
There is a clear class consciousness to this exhibition with its emphasis on, and at times celebration of, the everyday experiences of the common man.
The 1948 photograph Water Street by Harold Roth, depicts the unrestrained joy of children frolicking in the blast of an uncorked fire hydrant on a hot summer day; another, young adults screaming as the Coney Island Comet begins its plunge; and in Everett Shinn’s watercolor McSorely’s, men enjoying drink and conversation at the famous bar in 1908 after a day of work. Francis Luis Mora’s 1914 oil, Evening News, provides a fly on the wall view of commuters on a subway, while William Gropper's Sweatshop (1934) a man carrying garments and others bent over sewing machines.
The few pieces that do portray the elite, on the other hand, do so in a clearly negative light -in particular those from the Great Depression - a period when many artists and writers were blunt in their criticism of the excesses and injustices of capitalism.
Reginald Marsh’s 1940 Memories of the Stork Club portrays the favorite night time haunt of celebrities and the super rich in the decades just before and after World War II as cold and soulless. Despite a party scene of dancing and drinking with paparazzi straining to get a shot, the young women, clothed in muted hues, appear expressionless or disinterested as they endure the wooing of their companions -- tuxedoed old men, gray and corpse-like.
Elizabeth Olds’ 1939 A.D. shows Christ leading a march in front of the New York Stock Exchange with demonstrators holding signs demanding social and economic justice and a fat cat stock broker pushed to the ground, his sack of gold coins spilling out onto the street. Mabel Dwight’s Lithograph Merchant of Death depicts a skeleton leading a parade of businessmen donning black overcoats and top hats through the streets of Manhattan; and Hugo Gellert’s 1933 Lithograph Primary Accumulation #14 is of a giant businessman, reminiscent of the Parker Brothers’ iconic “Monopoly Man,” casually strolling through and towering over Manhattan’s skyscrapers.
New York, New York also reflects the competing forces of chaos and order that one often sees and experiences in the big city -- a cacophony of pedestrians, traffic, and storefront signs in a single image, or a print of a crowded Coney Island summer day on one hand; and the perfect symmetry of the Brooklyn Bridge or street grids on the other.
Standing out and apart in this exhibit are two large scale pieces, each displayed in its own gallery.
Red Grooms’ 1983 installation The Alley, a three dimensional “sculpto-pictorama,” allows visitors to walk through a cartoonish and brightly colored but gritty Gotham street scene with garbage strewn along the ground, panhandlers, a police officer pursuing a criminal with gun drawn, and a street vendor selling lottery tickets and men’s magazines.
Francis Luis Mora’s Manhattan Cocktail, 1626-1938 (1938) is a series of murals that were commissioned for the Town Club and Bar, a favorite Union Square stomping ground for artists and writers, depicting New York street scenes throughout the City’s history. The final piece is of a Native American flanked by a Dutch settler and English colonist seated on the bank of the East River looking up in awe at the towering skyline of late 1930s New York.
The most recent pieces of the exhibit represent a diverse group of works including, from the 1980s and 90s, Christo and Jean Claude’s The Wrapped Building: Times Square Allied Chemical Tower, Andy Warhol’s Abstract Sculpture (Headline series) and Yvette Jacquette’s Herald Square Composite 11. The most recent artwork in New York, New York is Red Grooms’s Lunchtime on Broadway, a huge 2009 charcoal on paper.
New York New York will run through November 5, 2017. In addition to the exhibit itself, supporting background is provided in the 50-minute film, Modern Dreams: Art of America, which screens daily. There will also be three lunchtime talks about the exhibition; each talk is followed by the daily public exhibition tour. The exhibition’s curator, Constance Schwartz, will present a gallery talk on September 10. Each of these programs is free with Museum admission.
Accompanying New York, New York is Glamour Icons, an exhibition demonstrating fragrance and cosmetic packaging as an art form through the work of the renowned designer Marc Rosen.
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