Coney Island Through the Ages

New exhibition highlighting this Brooklyn beach community opens at the Brooklyn Museum

Modern Venus of 1947, Coney Island

From: Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection. Gelatin silver photograph,1947. Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection.Unknown artist. (Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum)

Untitled (Buried Alive), circa 1960s or 1970s.

From: Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection. Gelatin silver photograph, Brooklyn Museum.© Estate of Harry Lapow. (Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum)

Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island, 1912

From: Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection. Gelatin dry glass plate negative Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection, 1996.Irving Underhill (Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum)

Coney Island, 1897

From: Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection. Gelatin dry glass plate negative, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.Edgar S. Thomson (Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum)

Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island, circa 1880–85

From: Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection. Gelatin silver photograph, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection.George Bradford Brainerd (Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum)

Coney Island, 1971

From: Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection. Gelatin silver photograph, Brooklyn Museum.© Stephen Salmieri. (Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum)

The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile, 1982

From: Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008. Digital, inkjet archival print.© Harvey Stein

Coney Island, July 30, 1949

From: Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008. Gelatin silver print, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Gift of the Hall Family Foundation.© Homer Page. Photo: John Lamberton

Coney Island Embrace, New York City, 1938

From: Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008. Gelatin silver print.© Morris Engel

Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island, 1930

From: Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008.© Edward J. Kelty

For the last 150 years Coney Island has captured the imaginations of artists working in all mediums, but it’s always been a natural playground for photographers. Every summer photographers flock to the historic boardwalk to capture vibrant mermaids, lounging beach-goers or curiosities at the freak show.

This winter the Brooklyn Museum will celebrate Coney's undeniable impact on the arts with two exhibitions: the Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank-curated "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008" from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut and a smaller photo based exhibition, unique to the Brooklyn Museum presentation, called "Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection".

“This was a way for us to highlight the depth of our photography collection, which very rarely get seen,” says “Forever Coney’s” curator Connie Choi. “It just made sense to do it that way. It’s a way to introduce audiences to Coney Island through photography first, before they go on to the larger exhibition.”

Choi, who accepted a full-time position last February, says that prepping for “Forever Coney” gave her a chance to really dig into the Museum’s photography collection, which primarily sits in storage. What she found was a number of 19th century negatives from photographers like George Bradford Brainerd and Breading G. Way.

“It became clear that we actually had enough material that complemented the entire trajectory of the larger Dreamland show—starting from the 1860s all the way through the end of the 20th century,” says Choi.

The 42-image show hangs in the 5th Floor elevator lobby, making it the very first thing museum visitors see as they enter the larger, mixed-medium “Visions of an American Dreamland” exhibition. For Choi, presenting “Forever Coney” in conjunction with “Visions of an American Dreamland” gives the larger exhibition context for anyone who has never paid a a visit to one of America’s oldest seaside resorts. “It was a way for visitors to really understand what Coney Island is,” she says.

“Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008” and “Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection” will be on view through March 13 at the Brooklyn Museum.

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