'A city for dreamers:' celebrating a century of art in New York

'A city for dreamers:' celebrating a century of art in New York
A centennial exhibition from the Museum of the City of New York explores the many ways that the city has inspired storytelling across art forms.

During a hot spell in the summer of 1948, author E.B. White sat down to write Here Is New York, trying to make sense of the magnetic hold the city has over millions of people who call it home. A place where myth, history and inconvenient truth are so profoundly intertwined, New York City ultimately becomes a part of one’s identity, whether native or transplant.

For 100 years, the Museum of the City of New York has been devoted to preserving the history of the city and its people – as evidenced in the centennial exhibition, This Is New York: 100 Years of the City in Art and Pop Culture.

Top to bottom: Jumpin’ at the Boneyard, 1991. Photographer unknown. Credit: Photofest. M Train on Route to Manhattan Approaches the Williamsburg Bridge, 1995. Credit: Richard Estes, courtesy Louis K. Meisel Gallery.

This Is New York is a tour de force featuring more than 400 objects across visual art, television, film, music, theatre, literature and fashion, including Jimi Hendrix’s handwritten notebook, Taxi Driver storyboards hand-drawn by director Martin Scorsese and Faith Ringgold’s groundbreaking Tar Beach story quilt. Organised by themes that explore how New Yorkers live, work, create, struggle and thrive, the exhibition draws inspiration from a muse that continuous reinvents itself before their very eyes.

“New York is a city for dreamers. In many ways we’re all the same, and New York has fulfilled the promise for so many of us,” says Jon Kamen, Chairman and CEO of RadicalMedia, the team behind the immersive film experience You Are Here. Designed as a multi-layered pastiche, wherein all New Yorkers can recognise themselves, their communities and their experiences, You Are Here weaves together footage from over 400 Hollywood features, documentaries, shorts, experimental films and independent productions to create a cinematic tapestry that evokes the kaleidoscopic experience of New York itself.

Top to bottom: Chinatown Apartment Painting, 1997. Credit: William Low. Salsa Sundays at Orchard Beach, 2023. Credit: Cheyenne Julien / Chapter NY / Museum of the City of New York.

“New York has endlessly inspired filmmakers because of its contradictions, dramatic extremes, and limitless variety. These qualities flow from the defining forces that have shaped this city – money, diversity, density and creativity,” says Sarah Henry, Robert A. and Elizabeth Rohn Jeffe Chief Curator and Interim Director at the Museum, one of the curators of the exhibition.

Just outside the screening room is Scenes from the City, a captivating selection of behind-the-scenes photographs from various movies shot on location in New York. “There is something ‘intrinsically cinematic’ about New York,” says curator and author James Sanders AIA, who has explored the subject in depth in books like Celluloid Skyline and Scenes from the City, which form the basis for the installation.

At Home in Harlem, New York with James Reynolds and Son Jerome Williams, from the series "Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood," 2011. Copyright: Zun Lee.

“There's a million and one stories told about this concrete jungle and you can find yours if you're looking," says Melissa Lyde, Founder of Alfreda’s Cinema and a member of the “York Are Here” curatorial committee. "At the core of [being] here exists the desire to be free to be ourselves, with the chance of making it big. That's why they say, ‘If you can make it here you can make it anywhere.’"

This Is New York: 100 Years of the City in Art and Pop Culture is on view through June 21, 2024, at the Museum of the City of New York in New York City.

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