Brooklyn Museum: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull)

My recent visit to the Coney Island Art Walls, which I wrote about here, reminded me that the Brooklyn Museum currently has an exhibition by one of the Art Wall artists, Stephen Powers. That exhibition, titled Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a SeaGull), features some intriguing art that takes the form of unique, brightly colored and cleverly worded hand-painted signs. I briefly mentioned this exhibition when I wrote about another, larger Coney Island exhibition at the museum, a richly nuanced exhibition that has since concluded. Fortunately, for those who would like to check out the Stephen Powers exhibition, there is still time – Coney Island Is Still Dreamland continues through August 21, 2016.

Powers got his start as a graffiti artist, eventually moving to New York City. He is currently based in Brooklyn. More than 15 years ago, Powers began transitioning from a graffiti artist to a full-time studio-based artist. Since then, his work has been shown in galleries and museums both in the United States and internationally. The Brooklyn Museum exhibition, which contains some excellent examples of Powers’s artistic work, as well as that of some of his artistic collaborators from his ICY Signs art business, is a treat for the eyes. The work also demonstrates some of Powers’s inspiration for his own work, the traditional sign-painting form once popular in Coney Island’s beach community.

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The central part of the exhibition is a square room with very high ceilings and lots of light – the four corners of the room have large collages of signs that stretch all the way to the ceiling. Nearby walls and additional small gallery rooms contain some additional artwork that’s part of the exhibition. Sitting in the middle of the main room is an observation viewer – one of the type found at picturesque tourist sites that often require the visitor to feed it coins in order to function.

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Here are some close-up views of some of the work in the exhibition. As you can see from these views, the closer you look at Stephen Powers’s work, the more there is to notice! (On rare occasions you may actually catch Powers working on a piece at the exhibition, although I’ve always managed to just miss him.)

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This final close-up  photos features some characters painted by one of Powers’s collaborators, Timothy Curtis, as well as some others that I haven’t identified along the edges.

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Want to see Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (For a Seagull) for yourself? Hurry to the Brooklyn Museum before the exhibition ends on August 21! If traveling by subway, take the 2 or 3 trains to the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum stop. (While you are at that station, check out the excellent subway art, which I previously wrote about here.) The Museum is located adjacent to the subway station. The museum also has parking for those wishing to drive. The museum has provided more specific directions for driving and parking on its website here.

Coney Island Art Walls

Imagine an outdoor museum of street art, open and free to visitors. That is exactly what the creators of the Coney Island Art Walls at Brooklyn’s Coney Island have envisioned. For the second year, an otherwise empty concrete lot has been transformed into a host for a variety of murals. Many of the murals draw inspiration from Coney Island-related themes, such as carnival side shows, amusement parks, and mermaids, but there are many other themes as well.

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Each mural has special lighting for evening viewing, and, similar to a traditional museum, each mural has a name plate identifying the artist. For those who don’t regularly follow street artists, the name plates are especially nice, as many street artists do not sign their work.

Here are some photos of my favorite murals from this year’s Coney Island Art Walls.

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Artist: Aiko
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Artist: Nina Chanel Abney
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Artist: The London Police
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Close-up of mural detail by The London Police
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Artist: D*Face
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Artist: Triston Eaton
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Artist: eL SEED
Artist: Marie Roberts
Artist: Marie Roberts
Artist: Gaia
Artist: Gaia
Part of large mural by Tats Cru
Part of large mural by Tats Cru
Part of large mural by Tats Cru
Part of large mural by Tats Cru

There are a couple of really interesting 3-dimensional works.

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Artist: John Ahearn
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Close-up of details of mural by John Ahearn
Artist: Stephen Powers
Artist: Stephen Powers
Close-up of detail from mural by Stephen Powers
Close-up of detail from mural by Stephen Powers

There’s even this poem by Jessica Diamond:

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Coney Island Art Walls offers more than street art – there’s also a “food court” of sorts, with several dining options. Each vendor is set up in a converted shipping container, and there is plenty of seating available.

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For those who want to revisit their childhood, the Coney Island Art Walls is also host to the open-air Dreamland Roller Rink, which holds two open skating sessions on Sundays (4-7 pm, and 7-10 pm). The theme is roller disco, and skaters are encouraged to dress in clothing from the 70’s and 80’s. Imagine roller skating in the shadows of great street art! As you can tell from the photos above, there’s plenty of other activities nearby as well, including amusement parks and the beach.

To get to the Coney Island Art Walls, take the D, F, N, or Q trains to the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue station. (While you’re at the station, take a look at the art onsite, which I’ve previously written about here.) Walk down Stillwell Avenue past Nathan’s Hot Dogs towards the beach. You will spot the Coney Island Art Walls after you’ve walked about a block.

Subway Station Art – Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue Station

Visitors to the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue train station in Brooklyn are in for a real treat – artist and theater director/designer Robert Wilson’s art installation, My Coney Island Baby (2003). Wilson explored archival images of Coney Island’s holiday trip and amusement park history in his screen-printed works, which span a glass brick wall stretching approximately 370 feet along one side of the station.

The station is entirely above ground, as the subway lines are elevated in this part of Brooklyn. The glass wall brings a lot of light into the station, drawing visitors’ attention to Wilson’s colorful and imaginative images.

Some images show Coney Island’s long history as an entertainment destination, with its amusement parks and carnival-style “freak” shows.

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Others show delightful vintage shots of life in a beach town.

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I particularly loved this sweet image of children surrounding a float ring, possibly swimming in the ocean or lounging on the beach.

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Finally, there is a giant hot dog – the food most associated with Coney Island. In fact, you can visit the original location for Nathan’s Famous, which began selling hot dogs at Coney Island 100 years ago, in 1916, for only 5 cents each. Somehow this image doesn’t exactly fit with the style of the others, but it is still fun and part of Coney Island’s history. (Don’t expect a 5-cent hot dog from Nathan’s today though – the last time I checked the hot dogs ranged in price from $4.25 to $4.99, depending on toppings.)

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To get to the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue Station, take the D, F, N, or Q train. The art is on the ground level.

Visiting the New York Aquarium

New York City may not have the largest aquarium, but it’s an aquarium with history, heart, and a mission. The New York Aquarium has been situated next to the Coney Island boardwalk since the 1950s, but it actually traces its roots back to the nineteenth century, when it originally opened in 1896 in Battery Park‘s Castle Clinton. According to the New York City Park website, the New York Aquarium is actually the “oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States.”

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1920 – 1930). Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-8aef-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

I knew that the New York Aquarium had sustained significant damage during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, resulting in it being closed to the public for several months for repairs. (Thankfully, because of aquarium staff members’ efforts, 90 percent of the aquarium animals were saved during the storm.) I was eager to see how the aquarium had recovered from the damage.

As you enter the aquarium, the first thing you will see are the interior tanks. There’s a great variety of fish in the tanks, educating visitors about ocean diversity, differences in ocean climates and geography, and at-risk species. Unsurprising, there were also a lot of children making references from Finding Nemo!

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I was interested to learn that the aquarium grows its own coral. There was an exhibit explaining a little about the growing process, including a frame on which a variety of coral samples were growing.

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After exploring the interior aquarium exhibits, I then headed outside. First up: the Aquatheater, for a demonstration of sea lion training and care.

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From the outside of the aquarium building, you can see back into the shark exhibition, which is entirely behind glass. This was my least favorite part of the aquarium, as the area was extremely crowded, and the exhibit was dark with smudged glass.

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Visitors won’t see this version of the shark exhibition too much longer though – the aquarium is in the midst of an expansion plan, and, as the nearby sign on the construction wall informed me, a new, more “immersive” shark experience is coming.

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There are more sea lions, as well as walruses, California sea otters, and penguins. On the day I visited, the sea otters were the most engaging, swimming around and seemingly posing for our cameras.

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Over the years, the aquarium has moved beyond solely entertaining and educating visitors to research and promotion of ocean conservation. As you approach the aquarium from the street side, you may notice the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences, the large building right next to the aquarium entrance.

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Interested in visiting the New York Aquarium yourself? For those who are driving, there is a parking lot next to the Aquarium, although I had the sense that it fills up quickly when the weather is good and people are heading to the beach. If you are traveling by train, take the F or Q train to the 8th Avenue – NY Aquarium stop. The aquarium is located just a short walk from the station.

You can also access the aquarium entrance from the Coney Island boardwalk. Near the museum’s boardwalk entrance, there is this great mural.

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The sign on the corner of the mural states that the concept and design were by VSA Partners, New York, and it was produced by Colossal Media. More than 100 volunteers helped to paint the mural, which includes both ocean and Coney Island themes.

Coney Island at the Brooklyn Museum

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.