There’s a set of new exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum right now, all with a Coney Island theme. Fun and thought-provoking, the Coney Island exhibits are something to put on your list of things to do before they end on March 13, 2016.
The first exhibit you will come to is Stephen Powers’s art installation, Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull). Drawing from the tradition of sign-painting unique to Coney Island, Powers’s works are eye-catching. As I began to explore each piece, I realized that there were many different meanings woven into them, in the form of advertising slogans on the myriad signs.
The exhibit makes great use of the space as well, with the installations stretching high towards the ceiling. There is even an observation view situated in the middle of the gallery–the kind you might find at scenic overlooks and skyscraper observation platforms, often coin-operated.
From Stephen Powers’s art installation, visitors can then enter Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008. The exhibit contained art and photographs of Coney Island throughout its history, following its rise and subsequent decline, as well as creating a context for attempts to make it great once again. Of course there are some wonderful images and artifacts from the amusement park and side show traditions of the past, but the exhibit also uses images to create thoughtful commentary about Coney Island’s unique historical intersections with race, ethnicity, and class in New York.
Some of my favorite parts of the exhibit were the artifacts and ephemera that came from Coney Island’s three amusement parks: Dreamland, Luna, and Steeplechase. For example, there is this metal version of the Steeplechase Funny Face, with its bright carnival colors and mischievous grin.
There are a couple of lovely examples of hand-carved wooden horses from Coney Island carousels. I learned that Coney Island carousel horses were usually carved by German immigrants who settled in Brooklyn, and the Coney Island horses have their own distinctive style. Here’s a close-up view of my favorite.
There is also some interesting side show pieces. The exhibit does a good job of developing the complexities of side show life, including the exploitation of people with cognitive or physical disabilities, as well as the financial independence some performers were able to achieve. This next photograph shows a banner for Jeanie, the “Living Half Girl,” who was born without legs.
There is this Cyclops head, taken from the Spook-a-rama horror-themed ride. (This particular ride features within other words in the exhibit as well.)
There were also targets from some of the carnival-style games found at Coney Island. The first photograph below shows targets from a ball toss game. The players would throw balls at the targets, attempting to knock them down for a prize. The second photograph shows a target for a game that used guns instead.
The final exhibit is Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection. Found in the lobby near the fifth floor elevator, the photographs in this exhibit chronicle Coney Island’s evolution over time.
This article is meant to give you just a small taste of what is in store when you visit the Coney Island exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum. There is such a rich range of art and ephemera to discover–this is really one of those exhibits that will appeal to all visitors. I know I will visit again before the exhibits end in March, as I’m sure I will notice different things in a second visit.
To get to the Brooklyn Museum, you can take the 2 or 3 trains to the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum stop. The Museum is located adjacent to the subway station. The museum also has parking for those wishing to drive. Complete directions are located here, on the Museum’s website.