Archive for exhibition

What’s Up at Coney

Posted in AMERICANA, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, PLUGS, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2017 by travsd

We all associate Coney Island with summer (it’s a beach and amusement park after all), but it may be a lesser known fact that there’s stuff happening at Coney Island USA all through the winter season as well. For example, most every Sunday Gary Dreifus presents his kid friendly Magic at Coney show. I was mightily entertained by Mr. Dreifus’s feats in yesterday’s show, as well as those of his special guests Magical Vince and Phil Crosson.  Here’s next week’s line-up:

The magic show takes place in the Coney Island Museum,  open on weekend throughout the winter. The museum has recently been spruced up with some new displays and wall text


Koo Koo the Bird Girl and her jolly friend (okay, he’s dressed like a jester, but I don’t know how jolly he is).



“Slapstick Used By Angelo the Midget at the Steeplechase Blowhole”

And now there is a whole new Hot Dog section of the museum featuring items like:


These stained glass windows are from the original Feltman’s Restaurant, birthplace of the hot dog

Thence (the real pull for the day) a special preview event for the new exhibition Five Cents to Dreamland: A Trip to Coney Island, created and curated by the New York Transit Museum. 

A 1998 sideshow banner by the one and only Marie Roberts!

A genuine vintage Strength-Tester mallet.


CIUSA Founder Dick Zigun (center): with Concetta Bencivenga, director of the NYTM; and John di Domenico, who serves on the boards of both organizations


Coney’s own Patrick Wall, Your Mix-Master


CIUSA board members James Fitzsimmons and Dr. Jeff Birnbaum, with Birnbaum’s son


Coney Island USA’s annual gala is happening in just two weeks, March 25! An all-star cast celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Mermaid Parade with a Corral Jubilee! Follow this magical portal for tickets and details! 


Windows on the Bowery, Part Two

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, ME, My Shows, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by travsd


An excellent time was had by all assembled (I decree it) at last night’s celebration for the Windows on the Bowery exhibition at the historic HSBC bank on the lower Bowery in Chinatown. You may recall our coverage of Part One, the Cooper Union opening, from my earlier blog post.  As you may recall, because you are paying strict and close attention to every aspect of my life, I wrote two the panels, included in the show, and these are them:



But frankly all of the panels are terific and they really made me wish for a way-back machine so I could visit all the theatres, museums, and such like that used to thrive on the Bowery back in the day.  You want a clearer picture? You want to see the rest of them? GO THERE. I told you where it is at the top of the post.

Here are some candids I took at the event:

David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Committee, principle mover, shaker and chief bottle washer of the project talks to Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project (whom I learned last night lives in one of the historic buildings!)

David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Committee, principle mover, shaker and chief bottle washer of the project talks to Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project (whom I learned last night lives in one of the historic buildings!)

Mulkins addresses the adoring throngs

Mulkins addresses the adoring throngs

HSBC Bowery Branch staff, who have every reason to be proud of this civic minded project

HSBC Bowery Branch staff, who have every reason to be proud of this civic minded project

The word in the circle is "Success". Ain't it the truth, ain't it the truth?

The word in the circle is “Success”. Ain’t it the truth, ain’t it the truth?

Coney Island Comes to the Brooklyn Museum

Posted in Amusement Parks, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2015 by travsd


Here’s irony for ya — the motive force behind Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, the major exhibition of Coney Island inspired art now ensconced at the Brooklyn Museum through March 13, proves not to be our local museum itself, but the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s been touring for the last several months, and now makes itself available to the tough but secretly sentimental audiences in Coney’s back yard. Tell the Warriors they can put away their brickbats — the new show is well worthy of America’s Playground.

The exhibition is exhaustive and instructively divided into historic periods: Down at Coney Isle: 1865-1894, The World’s Greatest Playground: 1895-1939, A Coney Island of the Mind: 1940-1962 and Requiem for a Dream: 1962-2008. One major positive aspect of the timeline is that it addresses a misconception inadvertently created by Ric Burns in his 1991 documentary film that Coney Island essentially ended (or began to decline) in 1911, the year that Dreamland, one of the three major amusement parks burned down. (I don’t have statistics in front of me, but I’m sure the attendance peak was in the 1940s. I’m sorry, but the attendance figures are the only yardstick that matter. There is no amusement professional who will EVER tell you anything different). On the other hand, to a minor extent it perpetuates the scurrilous canard that the closing of Astroland was the “end” of something. The only thing it was the ending of was Coney Island’s Shithole Period. Since the new version of Luna Park arrived in 2009, the place has been better and more exciting than at any time since I arrived here in 1987, and I go out there every season. But that misconception is so widespread, it’s going to be a job of work opening people’s eyes, and I wouldn’t expect this exhibition to be the platform for that.

At all events, the agenda here is art. Rarely in history has such a small patch of real estate inspired such a colorful and diverse lot of it. (A certain neighborhood in Bethlehem, perhaps?) This exhibition contains a nice cross section of the possibilities, over 140 works including paintings, photographs, quotations of texts by writers, posters, advertising ephemera, clips from motion pictures, and of course sideshow banners.

The exhibition’s first section is a reminder that the area once had a lot going for it as a natural landscape. William Merrit Chase’s 1886 Landscape near Coney Island depicts a bucolic scene with dunes, beach grass and a woman gathering berries — just like a real beach. A couple of genre paintings by Samuel S. Carr show the beach in transition, with just a hint of what is to come. Beach Scene (ca. 1879) captures a number of people on the beach dressed in what WE would consider formal clothes indeed. In the background is a group clustered around a puppet show. This is the era when the neighborhood was known primarily for hotels, but populist entertainment is already beginning to rear its head. Equally true of his Beach Scene with Acrobats, painted around the same time.

The sedate mood of the opening room quickly dissolves as you enter the next gallery. Here is an explosion of, well, everything. I don’t generally like to take snaps in the museum but I couldn’t resist this one…some piece of advertising art with caricatures of Mae West and Jimmy Durante:


Here’s a bunch of swell stuff I saw:

— Movie clips from The Gilded Lady (1935) Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928), King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928), Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), The Little Fugitive (1953), Coney Island USA (1951), The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), Weegee’s New York (1948, 1954), Annie Hall (1977), Enemies: A Love Story (1989), and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000)and some footage by Edison and others, including the notorious film of the electrocution of Topsy the Elephant.

— My favorite painting in the whole show, Leo McKay’s Steeplechase Park (1903-1906), a very large, bird’s eye panorama of the legendary amusement park. This alone was the worth the price of admission.

— Inevitably, several Reginald Marsh paintings and drawings. I don’t dig his work, but others do, and there’s no way you couldn’t include him in a show like this. To me, his depictions of humanity look like piles of dead zombies, and his pigments look like garbage water. Still, he was THERE and his paintings take you there, to such sights as the Wonderland Circus Sideshow, the Human Roulette Wheel, the Human Pool Tables, and a sideshow displaying Pip and Flip.

— Tons of great photos, by the likes of Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Edward J. Kelty, Harvey Stein, Bruce Davidson, and the aforementioned WeeGee

— sideshow banners advertising Shackles the Great, Quinto the Human Octopus, and (by our own Marie Roberts) the Congress of Curious People

— circus posters for Barnum and Bailey, and Bostock’s Great Water Arena

— Pieces of the old Spookarama ride

Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo

— Paintings by Milton Avery, Ralph Fasanella, Red Grooms, Daze, and many others, including this one I really loved by Mort Kuntsler, showing another side of Coney Island:


I’m rarely tempted to buy exhibition catalogs, but I’m downright obligated to acquire this one, and I reckon you’ll feel the same.

Nearby this main exhibition, the Brooklyn Museum has installed two related shows of its own: Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection and Stephen Powers: Coney Island is Still Dreamland (to a Sea Gull).  If you’ve not been to the Brooklyn Museum in a while, now is a good time to go.

The Fold-In Art of Al Jaffee on Exhibition!

Posted in EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, PLUGS, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , on November 7, 2014 by travsd


Opening Reception TONIGHT:
Friday, November 7th, 6-9 PM  

Scott Eder Gallery
18 Bridge St., Brooklyn NY

If you have any doubts about whether I’m going to this, you must be Cracked — I mean, Mad!

Big Fun in the Cemetery

Posted in Amusement Parks, AMUSEMENTS, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, ME, PLUGS with tags , , , , on September 8, 2014 by travsd

Yesterday we had a perfect late summer afternoon on our hands – -staying indoors was not an option. Luckily as we read on the indispensable blog Travalanche, nearby Green-wood Cemetery has just opened an exhibition in honor of one of their charges, William F. Mangels, a Coney Island ride and game designer and manufacturer.

Some may wonder at the propriety of Green-wood’s program of lectures, exhibitions, concerts and social events, but I think they’re fully appropriate. They are like extensions of the monuments themselves – -celebrations and remembrances of the lives of those who are interred there. People are frequently a bit illogical on this topic. If you believe in the existence of a soul, then you probably also believe in heaven…in which case, the souls aren’t HERE, are they? Just the mortal remains. This is a place to come and remember lives. If you think about it, a properly run cemetery ought to be a sort of biography park.

(The nicer photos below were taken by the Mad Marchioness. I am responsible for the ones that look like garbage.)


At any rate, Mangels was in the “Fun” business. He is said to have devised the mechanism that allows carousel horses to go up and down, and to have invented such rides as The Whip and The Tickler.  (See a short bio about him here at the Coney Island History Project). And so this wonderful exhibition:








William F. Mangels: Amusing the Masses at Coney Island will be up through October 26. More details here. 

After the exhibition we strolled the grounds as we love to do, and within a few yards of the chapel, encountered this:


Only silent film and comedy buffs would know why this would be of interest; in fact I wouldn’t have known to look for it if Ben Model hadn’t done a wonderful program here on the subject of Charles Inslee and others a few months back. (For my full article on Inslee, go here.). One thing confused me, though. Conventional dates for Inslee’s birth and death from most online sources say 1870-1922. Above, we see a discrepancy. Are there two Charles Inslees? Are the online sources wrong? Or this one? Send your cards and letters here.

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