By Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Exhibit brings summertime nostalgia to Balboa Park
In conjunction with Balboa Park’s centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, The San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA) will hold a summer exhibition July 11 – Oct. 11, titled “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008.”
In addition to the more than 150 paintings, photographs, gothic works and artifacts on display during the exhibition; the museum will also host special events including outdoor films, a Painting on Tap workshop combining libations with a painting lesson, and one of their signature Culture & Cocktails events, among others.
Summer is the museum’s busiest season, so they expect attendance to be strong.
Ariel Plotek, associate curator of modern art at SDMA, organized the exhibition and said that feelings of nostalgia are already pervading the park because of the centennial celebration and that visitor’s eyes have been lighting up at the mention of Coney Island.
“The exhibition is going to reveal sides of this mythic place [Coney Island],” Plotek said. “There are new facets to be revealed and new stories to be told of New York City and this country.”
Such stories include romance and the mixing of social classes, as well as self-reinvention and aspirations of the American Dream. According to Plotek, Coney Island became a great escape during the Great Depression, since a train ride to spend a day out at the beach was still within means.
“It will surprise some visitors in terms of what a museum exhibition can do,” Plotek said. “This is broader than many shows that just feature one artist — it’s an investigation of a whole social phenomenon represented through art that touches all points of the imagination.”
Of particular interest, paintings from some of the most popular American artists of the 20th century will be on display. Plotek noted that many of the more ephemeral objects on display were never intended for a museum, such as carousel animals and the park’s famed Cyclops head that topped the Spook-A-Rama ride for decades. Surviving Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Cyclops is a testament to Coney Island’s endearing story and recovery, he said.
Set in the museum’s outdoor sculpture garden, three movies will be shown as part of the exhibition, “Annie Hall” on July 27, “The Little Fugitive” on Aug. 3, and “I’m No Angel” on Aug. 10.
The Film in the Garden series is offered free to SDMA members and youth under 17 years old, and $5 for nonmembers.
For those who like to imbibe while exploring their creative side, Painting on Tap allows guests to grab a drink and a bite from Panama 66 before sitting down for a guided painting lesson with a local artist.
On July 30, Painting on Tap participants will receive an after-hours tour of the museum and will create a work inspired by Francis Augustus Silva’s “Schooner Progress Wrecked at Coney Island.” This workshop is $40 for SDMA members, $50 for nonmembers.
On Aug. 6, SDMA will host a Culture & Cocktails event with Coney Island-themed programming and activities. Over the last decade, these popular evening events have drawn a new, younger audience with their music, booze, themed attire and interactive activities. During Culture & Cocktails, attendees are permitted to explore the galleries, and they receive one complimentary signature cocktail. The event is free for SDMA members, $20 for nonmembers, or $25 at the door.
A weeklong summer camp will be available to children in kindergarten through second grade Aug. 24 – 28, where they will also get an opportunity to visit the exhibition.
On Sept. 12, a Second Saturday Workshop will offer adult students a lesson in mixed media collage, inspired by the nostalgic works in the Coney Island exhibit. On Oct. 2, a Drawing in the Galleries workshop gives adults and teens an opportunity to draw from objects included in the exhibition.
Docent-led tours will be available on select days throughout the exhibition. Staff members will lead 15-minute informative ArtStop talks on select Thursdays at noon to discuss one to three works on display.
As part of a three-city U.S. tour, the exhibition will travel next to the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
Also tied to the park’s centennial celebration, SDMA’s exhibit “The Art of Music” will open in September, paying tribute to the daily musical performances held during the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
For more information about the San Diego Museum of Art, opportunities to see the Coney Island exhibit, or the upcoming Art of Music exhibition, visit sdmart.org.