As many of you already know, I am currently fulfilling the role of artist in residence at The Coney Island Museum. As such, last April I launched an exhibition there in collaboration with artist Aaron Beebe that will be on view until April of this year. Entitled "The Great Coney Island Spectacularium," the exhibition aims to explore, celebrate, and evoke through installation, artifacts, and newly commissioned works turn of the 20th Century Coney Island with its bizarre, spectacular and, amazingly, forgotten immersive amusements.
Although this seems nearly unbelievable, on an average day in Coney Island around 1900, one might be able to experience one or more of the following: A midget village modeled on 16th century Nuremberg and featuring its own parliament, hotel, stables with midget ponies, vaudeville house, and midget fire department rushing off to put out imaginary fires; A recreation of the destruction of Pompeii by volcano, San Francisco by earthquake, Galveston by flood, and/or Titanic by iceburg; Freakishly small premature infants battling for their lives in infant incubators; A recreation village of the head-hunting Bontac Tribe of the Philippines with real tribespeople on display; An immersive spectacular which staged tenement fires every half hour and featured a cast of 2,000; A Boer War reenactment featuring real Boer War veterans; A trip to the moon, under the sea, or to heaven and hell by way of being buried alive in a glass coffin; and, as they say, much, much more. How could this have all been forgotten, we ask in this exhibition, and our memory of Coney Island sanitized to a place of mere hotdogs, roller coasters, petty crime and freaks? What does it say about who we are now, and what have we lost in this historical omission?
The centerpiece of our exhibition is The Cosmorama of the Great Dreamland Fire, which is an immersive 360 degree spectacle based on the great panoramas and cosmoramas that populated Coney Island in the 19th century. It tells the story with image, sound, and light of the most spectacular disaster in Coney Island history: the complete and dramatic destruction of Dreamland, one of the three great parks that made up turn of the century Coney Island, by fire 100 years ago in 1911. Dreamland was never rebuilt, but had it been, Beebe and I are certain it would have given pride of place to a disaster spectacle that allowed visitors to experience the great fire that had destroyed it. The Cosmorama of the Great Dreamland Fire is our attempt to create the attraction that should have been, and to allow contemporary audiences to experience a 19th century-style immersive spectacle of the sort celebrated in the exhibition.
Next Thursday September 22, the crew behind the construction and conception of The Cosmorama--myself included--will be at The Coney Island Museum giving a presentation about the making of the piece, followed by guided tours of the exhibition. We will also be on hand to answer any questions you might have.
I think this will be a really great event. And for those of you who have yet to make it out to see the exhibition, a great excuse to finally make the trek and have a beer in the Cosmorama!
Full details follow. Very much hope very much to see you there!
Date: Thursday, September 22More on The Great Coney Island Spectacularium can be found here. More on The Cosmorama can be found here.
Time: 7:30pm - 8:30pm
Admission: $5, Free for Coney Island USA Members.
Loction: The Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn
The Cosmorama of the Great Dreamland Fire is the first Cyclorama in Coney Island since Luna Park met its own fiery demise in the 1940's. The art of creating a full-scale immersive Victorian entertainment was lost to Coney Island's denizens until this year. Find out how the Coney Island Museum resurrected the theatrical skills and the know-how necessary to create a 360-degree painted panorama with sound and lights for the 21st century.
Aaron Beebe, director of the Coney Island Museum; Joanna Ebenstein, Artist in residence for 2011; and their collaborators will be on hand to discuss the ins-and-outs and the technology behind the Cosmorama, with detailed technical descriptions from the lighting designers, the scenic artists, and the producers of this new and exciting spectacle.
Beebe and Ebenstein will be joined by the artisans and craftspeople from the Metropolitan Opera and other institutions who helped make this work possible. Guided tours of the Cosmorama will be held.