nyc art itinerary: Museum of the City of New York

It’s been over a month since I wrote a list of NYC art places I aim to visit in 2013. Today I ticked off my first of seven sites when I visited the Museum of the City of New York for the Designing Tomorrow exhibition on the 1939 World’s Fair.

The exhibition was a good overview for the World’s Fairs in the 1930s, spanning San Francisco, San Diego, Cleveland, Chicago, and of course, Queens. I came away with some interesting info:

  • Robert Moses’ initiative to convert the area that is now Flushing-Corona Meadows Park from marsh and dumping ground into a World’s Fair site and park was the largest reclamation project ever undertaken.
  •  The Panorama, now housed at the Queens Museum of Art, is over 9,000 square feet, and is the result of the labor of 100 people working for three years.
  • ConEdison commissioned a diorama that showed the lights of NYC going on and off in a 12-minute cycle. It was three stories high and a block long.

But, overall, I was a little let down. The artifacts seemed outnumbered by tiled photos and didactic texts. I missed the awe,  excitement, and interactivity that all these inert things were trying so hard to convey. Further, many photos were reproduced, either as part of the signage, or in digital slideshows. For example, rare color photos were projected on a standard-definition projector in a too-bright hallway, while photos of illuminated pavilions were shown on a monitor with annoyingly long crossfade transitions. While the graphic designers made chronologically consistent typographic choices, the photos were presented in 21st century means, and the precision and luminosity of the original prints or slides were lost. The exhibition also seemed soft on social history; I would have loved to hear more about how Depression-era audiences, NYC’s disparate communities or the US’ progressive movement engaged the Fairs.

The main things I enjoyed were:

1. Loads of examples of lovely typography—off-set printed on brochures, as well as hand-painted in proposal drawings.

2. Some of the original proposal drawings were truly stunning. This one, in particular, is fantastic in real life:

Micromegas proprosal drawing by Frank Paul.
Micromegas proprosal drawing by Frank Paul.

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