As the first city museum in the United States, the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) has officially been a New Yorker for one hundred years! To mark the milestone, curators created an exhibition that celebrates the Museum and explores the many ways that the city has inspired storytelling across a variety of different art forms. This Is New York: 100 Years of the City in Art and Pop Culture is a full-floor exhibition showcasing more than 400 objects that span the last 100 years. Highlights of the exhibition include rare artifacts like a street sign from Sesame Street, an interactive talking bookshelf, and an immersive 16-screen experience featuring scenes from hundreds of movies about the city!
This Is New York spans the course of a century, from the MCNY’s founding in 1923 to today. In that time, New York City has been both romanticized and reviled, sought after and abandoned, praised and critiqued. This exhibition examines all of the ways the city has been portrayed. The space is separated into four major sections. Each views the city through a different lens.
The first section that guests will encounter is “Tempo of the City,” which highlights the duality of New York. it illustrates the joy and struggles at the street level through objects like Jimi Hendrix’s notebook and the tutu getup worn by Carrie Bradshaw in the pilot episode of Sex and the City. “Tempo of the City” shares its name with a 1938 black and white photograph captured by Berenice Abbott in which New Yorkers rush through the streets.
This section also offers Songs of New York, an interactive map that illustrates spots in the city that have inspired songs ranging from 1920s tunes to top hits of today. All you have to do is step on a borough and a song about that place will begin to play, whether it’s an oldie by Frank Sinatra or a song by Wu-Tang Clan.
The second section of This Is New York, named “Destination NYC,” pays homage to the many artistic representations of places in New York City. Everywhere from iconic sites like Times Square and Central Park, to miscellaneous restaurants, dance clubs, and beaches are represented. These familiar places appear in a collage by Romare Bearden called Jammin’ at the Savoy, in a story quilt by Faith Ringgold called Tar Beach which depicts a Harlem rooftop, and in paintings like Salman Toor’s Bar Boy which illustrates a scene at a queer bar.
“At Home in New York” is dedicated to living spaces in New York City. It celebrates both their oddities and their upsides. This is where that talking bookshelf comes into play. The bookshelf illuminates scenes from NYC-centered TV shows like The Jeffersons, The Honeymooners, and Living Single. Excerpts of books that show New Yorkers at home are narrated by well-known voices of celebrities including Matthew Broderick, Rosario Dawson, and Tessa Thompson, key writers such as Qian Julie Wang, and WNYC’s Alison Stewart. In addition to the interactive talking bookshelf, “At Home in New York” also showcases various depictions of home in paintings, photographs, and manuscripts.
The fourth and final section of This Is New York, “You Are Here,” is an immersive film experience put together by film scholars and experts with the help of renowned production company RadicalMedia. The 16-screen, immersive experience features a mashup of iconic movies from not only each decade of the past 100 years but also each borough of New York City. Examples of the famous films highlighted include Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Coming to America, Saturday Night Fever, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Uncut Gems. In addition to the film experience, “You Are Here” also features Scenes from the City, a collection of behind-the-scenes shots from productions that have been filmed in NYC put together by author and filmmaker James Sanders.
Written by Rebecca Olshan and Nicole Saraniero