Circus and the City (The Exhibition at Bard)


Another great exhibition we took in last night: Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010 at the  Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture (BGC).

Three floors of the museum are given over to a material examination of New York City’s 217+ year relationship with the circus…a relationship dating back to the art form’s origins. Some of the amazing stuff on view:

* an unfinished portrait of circus pioneer John Bill Rickets by Gilbert Stuart

* an illustration of one of New York’s circus buildings, the Broadway Circus, from the time when New York had dedicated circus buildings, as opposed to tents or arenas like MSG or Barclay’s

* General Tom Thumb’s suit, boots and violin. You won’t believe how tiny they are!

* Dan Rice’s clown pants

* Clyde Beatty’s pith helmet, whip and chair!

* Currier and Ives portraits of the Albino Family and Vantile Mack the Ohio Fat Boy

* classic Weegee photos of circus audience members

* cartes de visite for Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, Madame Clofullia, and many others of P.T. Barnum’s unusual prodifies

* a piece of Jumbo the Elephant’s tusk

* cast iron circus toys

* Felix Avery’s clown costume

* amazing films (one depicts an absolutetly stunning 1932 publicity stunt, wherein aerialist Tiny Kline staged her “Slide for Life” from one end of Times Square to the other, 1,000 feet on a wire high above the skyscrapers, holding on with only her jaw. )

And of course countless lithographs, posters, handbills, broadsides, banners, photos, illustrations, designs etc etc etc.  There must be at least a couple of hundred objects here. Most of these are simply gorgeous strictly as artworks in addition to their value as historical documents. And some of the posters are surprisingly large…one looked to be about eight feet tall by five feet wide; I hadn’t realized they made them so large.

The exhibition will be up through February 3. And if you can’t make it there personally, they’re selling a beautiful catalog. Thursday nights they’re open late and the admission is free, a good time to go. Don’t worry about a crush, as awesome as this exhibition is. Last night, it was the Countess and me, a pair of old ladies, and a quarreling couple, plus the security guards. One of the old ladies felt the need to instruct the security guard on the difference between midgets and dwarves. I like an exhibition that inspires healthy debate! All the info is here:

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