From Burlesque Shows to Coney Island, New Exhibits Capture City's Past
UPPER WEST SIDE — Two new exhibits at the New-York Historical Society celebrate painting and sketching as a way of capturing 20th century life in New York City.
Both "Swing Time," a retrospective of American Depression-era painter Reginald Marsh, and "Jane's Jaunts," the beautiful and clever sketches of 103-year-old Jane Bannerman's explorations in the city and abroad, showcase artists "doing documentary sketching and painting when photography is a the dominant medium," said Susan Kriete, an archivist at the museum.
From 1955 to 2003, Upper East Sider Jane Bannerman traveled the world and traversed local and foreign streets with a sketchpad in hand, capturing watercolor vignettes of the world unfolding around her — from the construction of the original World Trade Center towers to Chinese children learning about Communist heroes.
Her drawings and handwritten musings are now on display at the West 77th Street and Central Park West museum's Reading Room and will take visitors back in time, as well as charm and amuse them, Kriete said.
"Any place you see [in the colorful sketches] is instantly recognizable...but it's completely imbued with [Bannerman's] personality," she said.
And in the time of Instagram and iPhone photos, these carefully created and curated portraits of China in 1979 or Times Square in the 1960s create a connection to the artist that doesn't always exist in snapshots, she said.
"Tourist photos are everywhere — there's something so wonderfully personalized [about the sketches]," observed Kriete.
Photos were also everywhere when Reginald Marsh was painting New York City in the 1930s, said Timothy Wroten, an associate manager of communications for the museum.
"Mass marketing was coming into its own...images from movie posters, magazines...were everywhere," said Wroten.
The exhibition also helps satisfy that ever-present urge New Yorkers seem to harbor "to live in a New York that isn't today," he said.
Stylized faces stare back at us from the bright, busy canvases, which sought to represent the congestion and tumult of New York City life at the time. His paintings of Coney Island beaches show a shoreline bursting with people, with barely an inch of sand to spare.
The museum considers Marsh's art "historical documents," Wroten said, which allow art fans to revisit the details, tone and mood of the Depression.
The paintings also reveal "a new type of New York," where "you could be poor and have time for leisure," said Wroten, with 20 cent matinees as a case in point.
Marsh loved to capture everyday people, and he was particularly enamored with the burlesque scene. The fascination with burlesque and the roaring 20s and 30s that persists today has drawn in a lot of visitors already, Wroten said.
"Swing Time" is on view through Sept. 1.
"Jane's Jaunts" is on display through Aug. 26 and her entire collection of 75 sketchbooks can be seen by anyone who makes a free appointment with the library (to schedule an appointment, email email@example.com).
The museum is open Tuesday through Thursday and also Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is open until 8 p.m. on Fridays. Sunday hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the museum is closed on Monday.