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Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, Part II

April 11 @ 6:30 pm 7:30 pm

In conjunction with the Westport Museum’s exhibition “Playful Pastimes,” join Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank for part two of her captivating series about Coney Island as the ultimate accessible leisure destination and its iconic place in the history of American art and culture. The curator and author of an acclaimed exhibition and book on Coney Island, Robin will explore the site’s enduring status as a subject for artists by exploring paintings, photographs, films, carousel animals, and fun ephemera ranging from postcards to sideshow banners. 

Called “America’s Playground,” Coney Island is a world-famous resort and national cultural symbol that has inspired artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers. They captured its inception as a watering hole for the wealthy, transformation into the world’s most famous mechanical amusement center, evolution into a mecca for the masses, decline into a disheveled dreamland, and recent revival. An extraordinary array of artists will be discussed—among them, William Merritt Chase, Joseph Stella, Walker Evans, Reginald Marsh, Paul Cadmus, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, George Tooker, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Patti Smith, Basquiat, Red Grooms, Daze, and Swoon.  

The best show is the people themselves.

Reginald Marsh, Artist

Many artists perceived this iconic place as a prism through which to view the American experience. Their visions of Coney Island imagined the future and later recalled the past, conveying changing ideas about leisure, and exploring the mixing of people of different races, ethnicities, and classes, transcending social boundaries. How artists chose to portray America’s Playground—in tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares—mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era. Their art brings to life the allure and excitement of Coney Island, which occupies not only a strip of sand in Brooklyn, but also a singular place in the American imagination.  

Tickets are free for members and $5 for nonmembers. Register online below.  

Tickets are nonrefundable. In the event you must cancel, we will consider your purchase a donation and will happily issue you a donation receipt. 

$5 Free for Museum Members

Robin Jaffee Frank, PhD, curated the exhibition and authored the accompanying award-winning book Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 (Yale University Press, 2015). The exhibition opened at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, and traveled to the San Diego Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, and McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. A version of the exhibition traveled across the country until 2022 through a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities On-the Road program.  

An independent curator, Robin has organized numerous exhibitions at museums throughout the US, lectured extensively, and published widely on American visual culture from the colonial through contemporary periods. She formerly served as Chief Curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and Senior Associate Curator at the Yale University Art Gallery. Robin holds a PhD in the history of art from Yale University. 

Event Image: Red Grooms, Weegee 1940, 1998-99. Acrylic on paper. Private Collection

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