At the New-York Historical Society, we believe that knowing where we came from helps us understand who we are now.
Current Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society
WWII & NYC
Through May 27, 2013
The Second World War (1939–1945) was the most widespread, destructive, and consequential conflict in history. WWII & NYC is an account of how New York and its metropolitan region contributed to Allied victory. The exhibition also explores the captivating, sobering, and moving stories of how New Yorkers experienced and confronted the challenges of "total war."
When war broke out in 1939, New York was a cosmopolitan, heavily immigrant city, whose people had real stakes in the global conflict and strongly held opinions about whether or not to intervene. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought the U.S. into the war, and New York became the principal port of embarkation for the warfront. The presence of troops, the inflow of refugees, the wartime industries, the dispatch of fleets, and the dissemination of news and propaganda from media outlets, changed New York, giving its customary commercial and creative bustle a military flavor. Likewise, the landscape of the city acquired a martial air, as defenses in the harbor were bolstered, old forts were updated, and the docks became high security zones.
Pop Shop Tokyo
Through June 2, 2013
In honor of the installation of the ceiling from Keith Haring's famous Pop Shop above the new admissions area in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History, the New-York Historical Society, in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation, has created a rotating display devoted to the Pop Shop in the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture. The ceiling is a gift from the Haring Foundation, and all items in the Luce Center display are on loan from Foundation.
In 1986, internationally famed artist Keith Haring (1958-1990) opened the Pop Shop at 292 Lafayette Street. The following year, Haring collaborated with Japanese film producer Kaz Kuzui, and his American wife, film director Fran Rubel Kuzui on a Tokyo venue, in the Aoyama neighborhood.
The shop was made out of two shipping containers welded together to form one large room. While the shop was conceived very much in the image of its New York counterpart, many of the products were created by Haring to mirror Japan's cultural traditions. Haring did extensive design work in Tokyo; fans and kimonos were manufactured in Kyoto, and rice bowl templates were painted and then produced in Nagoya. With speed and virtuosity, Haring began painting the interior of the shop on Wednesday, January 27, 1988 and finished the next day. The paint was still tacky on Friday, January 29 when he oversaw the installation of the displays in time for a press preview that evening. On Saturday, January 30, Pop Shop Tokyo opened to the public. However, sales were disappointing, and Haring noted "there are just too many Haring fakes available all over Tokyo and, this time, they're really well done." The shop closed in the summer of 1988.
Ongoing Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society
The Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History
Explore the story of New York and America in the newly designed Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. Highlights include:
Collection Highlights and New York and the American Experience
Mounted on the building's original 1904 columns are grand digital screens displaying a continuous, thematically co-ordinated slide show of treasures from the New-York Historical Society's collections. The west face of the columns features individual stations, incorporating interactive touch screens and museum artifacts, presenting six themes in American history which are found interwoven with the history of New York. Currently, the columns display a series of portraits featuring the model Editta Sherman, which were part of Bill Cunningham's Facades project. The series was shown here at the New-York Historical Society in 1976, in an exhibit entitled Fashions and Façades, under the guidance of curator Mary Black. Projected on dramatic flat screens affixed to six structural columns, the array of objects and images functions as visual signage that demonstrates to our visitors the depth of New-York Historical's collections. Visitors can access images and information about our App.
Liberty/Liberté by Fred Wilson
Upon entering the New-York Historical Society, the visitor encounters Fred Wilson's Liberty/ Liberté, an installation that offers the viewer access to the multiple layers of interpretation of the history and historical figures of the Age of Revolution.
New York Rising
The showpiece of the space occupies a forty-two-foot wall facing Central Park West, and illustrates New York's critical contribution to the founding of the United States. Covering the period from the American Revolution through to the New-York Historical Society's 1804 founding, a contemporary interpretation of a nineteenth-century salon-style display uses some of New-York Historical's most treasured objects and cutting-edge technology to convey the historical narrative.
Out of the ashes of the British occupation of New York and Evacuation Day in November 1783 at the American Revolution's end, New York emerged as the first capital of the United States. It was where George Washington was inaugurated the first president; where the Northwest Ordinance, mandating westward expansion, was debated and signed in 1787; where the essays comprising the Federalist Papers advocating the ratification of the U.S. Constitution were written (by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay); where the First Congress sat in 1789; and where the Bill of Rights was introduced. As the place where Hamilton conceived of an American financial system, New York also became the American business capital of the country. Against the philosophical and intellectual framework of the Enlightenment, the New Yorkers who participated in the country's founding were immersed in an often-fractious atmosphere of debate, intellectual discourse, and political experimentation. In 1804, as this historical moment was passing, the New-York Historical Society was founded, motivated by an expressed need to collect items pertaining to the history of the state and of the nation, as well as the mission to capture and interpret not only the revolutionary and Federal eras, but the years to come. In so doing, New-York Historical deliberately participated in the creation of a self-consciously American culture.
Leah and Michael Weisberg Monumental Treasures Wall
A 10-foot-high display case in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History showcases large-scale maps, architectural drawings, documents and other works on paper that previously could not be exhibited because of their size and light sensitivity.
History Under Your Feet
Under visitors' feet, the Smith Gallery also features nine porthole-like floorcases displaying objects found by avocational archaeologists and other professionals seeking history below the ground of New York City. Objects include arrowheads, military buttons, bullets and a colossal oyster shell excavated at an extant nineteenth-century tavern.
here is new york
New-York Historical also displays a rotating selection from the approximately 6,200 photographs comprising the powerful here is new york collection of images taken in New York on and in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The collection echoes the Founding New Yorkers theme of resilience, renewal and transformation emerging from the ashes of catastrophic events. Accompanying the photography installation will be a large fragment of a fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 attack.
Pop Shop Ceiling by Keith Haring
A ceiling mural by Keith Haring hangs above the admissions desk. The work is taken from the interior of the Pop Shop, which Haring opened in SoHo in 1986 to sell shirts, posters, and other merchandise reproducing his artwork. He painted the shop's entire interior in black-and-white. The mural was a gift from the Keith Haring Foundation upon the store's closing in 2005.
The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture
The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture on the fourth floor provides public access to nearly 40,000 objects from the New-York Historical Society's permanent collection. In the Luce Center, visitors can see art and artifacts spanning four centuries, ranging from masterworks of American painting, to the nation's premiere collection of Tiffany lamps, to historical touchstones such as the draft wheel that played a role in one of the worst urban riots in United States history.
The Luce Center houses collections formerly kept in offsite storage. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at a working museum collection. In addition to a rich array of objects, small focus exhibitions highlight specific strengths of the collection and offer a historical context for current cultural, economic, political and social issues. Free handheld guides and cell phone tours allow visitors to hear the stories behind the objects on view.
Statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass
The life-size bronze figures of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) that stand at either entrance to the New-York Historical Society bring to life the story of freedom that is deeply embedded in American history and is a primary focus of New-York Historical's programs. Throughout his candidacy and presidency, Lincoln emphasized a new birth of freedom for the United States and identified slavery as a moral and political issue that threatened the nation's survival. Although Lincoln's home state was Illinois, it was New York politicians, journalists, and imagemakers who engineered his rise to the top of the Republican ticket in the 1860 election. His assassination in 1865 united New Yorkers, who turned out en masse to file by the casket lying in state at City Hall and participate in the funeral procession.
Portraits of the City
A group of approximately twenty paintings and two small sculptures offer visitors a chronological journey through highlights of the New-York Historical Society's rich collection of New York views, including historical images of the metropolis and richly allusive images of its inhabitants and their lives. The installation includes a selection of city views, beginning and ending with two monumental cityscapes, A Southeast Prospect of the City of New York from ca. 1756-1761 and Jacquette's From World Trade Center, 1998. It features portraits of political and cultural figures such as DeWitt Clinton, who oversaw the development of the Erie Canal, and Katharine Cornell, the first lady of the American theater in the 1920s and 1930s. It also illuminates the everyday lives of city dwellers through such works as Thain's Italian Block Party, 1922, and Blauvelt's images of New Yorkers at work in the 1850s.
Treasures of Shearith Israel
Objects and documents from the incomparable collection of Congregation Shearith Israel (established 1654), including manuscripts, maps, liturgical treasures and historical artifacts, are featured in the Henry Luce III Center for American Culture.
The history of New York's Jewish presence began in 1654 with the arrival of twenty-three refugees of Sephardic ancestry from Recife, Brazil. Soon after their arrival the group established a congregation, the first in North America. This foundation was the beginning of a rich legacy that has culminated in the growth of what is now one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, and, importantly, set the stage for the religious and ethnic diversity for which our city and nation are known. Since its early inception, members of Congregation Shearith Israel have participated in the political, economic, and cultural life of New York and the United States, and have included colonial shipping merchants and master artisans, Revolutionary War patriots and loyalists, founders of the New York Stock Exchange, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Barnard College, numerous public officials, national educators, activists and poets.
The Games We Played: American Board and Table Games from the Liman Collection Gift
The Games We Played presents a rotating selection of board and table games from the Liman Collection, an extraordinary collection of more than 500 examples donated to New-York Historical by Ellen Liman in 2000. These games, which entertained families from the 1840s to the 1920s, offer a fascinating window on the values, beliefs and aspirations of middle-class Americans. During the period, families embraced leisure pursuits in the home and encouraged their children to play games that would develop skills and provide moral instruction. At the same time, advances in chromolithography allowed board game manufacturers, like New York City-based McLoughlin Brothers, to produce sumptuous, eye-catching games at affordable prices.
Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection
Magnificent model trains, train stations and sheds, bridges and tunnels, carousels and Ferris wheels—all populated with toy figurines in colorful nineteenth-century dress, will be on view this holiday season at the New-York Historical Society, in the first museum exhibition of selections from the renowned Jerni Collection.
Among the unique, hand-crafted and hand-painted toys will be the only existing first model elevated station. Designed by Märklin, ca. 1895, it is known as the Rolls-Royce of toy train manufacturers and will be displayed in the Judith and Howard Berkowitz Sculpture Court, near the 77th Street entrance. In New-York Historical's Luce Center, the installation will include Märklin's largest and most elaborate train station, ca. 1904; Marklin's only known extant post office, ca. 1895; a Märklin girder bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel, ca. 1905; Rock & Graner's extraordinary hand-painted road over double-arched brick bridge, ca. 1902; and Ernst Plank's exquisite Ferris wheel from the turn-of-the-century.
Works from the Permanent Collection
Christian Köhler's Germania ( in the Year 1848), 1849 (1882.154) is installed on the second to third floor stairwell. It was first exhibited in New York in 1850 and was immediately recognized as one of the most important paintings in the United States. An allegory of the German people's struggle for democracy, it was thought to have a safer resting place in New York than in Germany after the failed revolutions of 1848.
The work entered the New-York Historical Society's collections in 1882 and hung in the stairwell of New-York Historical's Second Avenue home. It had been on long-term loan to the Deutsches Historisches Museum since 1998, where it is the centerpiece of the 1848 section of the museum's permanent exhibition. The work finds particular resonance with Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware in the Met's American Wing. The Leutze's monumental, newly reconstructed frame is based on Mathew Brady photographs in New-York Historical's collection. Leutze's iconic work, begun in 1849, was seen by contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic as not only connecting the revolutions of 1776 and 1848, but also, like the Köhler, as a rallying cry for the cause of democracy. The third-floor landing features Tiffany Studios' five stained glass panels, Christ and the Good Shepherd of 1909 (N84.135, N84.136 and long-term loans from the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass), from the chapel of the Stony Wold Sanatorium in Lake Kushaqua, New York. The Sanatorium was founded to provide treatment for tuberculosis for working women and children from New York City—it provided a "wilderness cure" in the open air.
Martorell's From Here To There
Created by Antonio Martorell and friends, this mixed media installation in the New-York Historical Society's Luce Center reflects on the theme of Puerto Rican migration to New York which reached its heights in the 1940s and 1950s. Curving walls and rows of seats evoke the interior of a mid-century airplane cabin.
From Here to There is inspired by an essay titled "La guagua aerea," or "The Air Bus," by Luis Rafael Sánchez. Like Sánchez's essay, Martorell uses air travel to describe migration, leaving ambiguous which destination is "there" and which is "here" to emphasize that the movement of people and ideas is not all one way. The installation also serves as a theater for the projection of a documentary by Ric Burns. The seats are dressed as immigrants so visitors can sit on their laps, literally placing themselves in their position. Martorell created this installation for the Nueva York (1613-1945) exhibition, a collaboration between the New-York Historical Society and El Museo del Barrio in 2010 which explored New York's long connection with the Spanish-speaking world.
"Liberty and King George" Interactive Video Wall
Bring art to life! This video animation by the Small Design Firm of Cambridge, Massachusetts reproduces a Johannes Adam Oertel work, depicting the destruction of the statue of King George III in 1776 by patriots on ten high-definition flat screens. Triggered by visitors' movements, various elements of the painting come to life using sound and animation.
Around 1852, Johannes Adam Oertel depicted an incident that had occurred over seventy-five years earlier: the destruction of the statue of King George III by patriots on July 9, 1776, at Bowling Green in New York City. The American Revolution would inspire other democratic uprisings around the world, including the unsuccessful 1848 revolution in Oertel's native Germany, which sent progressives like Oertel fleeing to the United States. This painting illustrates the Bowling Green riot precipitated by the reading of the Declaration of Independence, though the work takes historical liberties by adding American Indians, an African-American, women, and children to the scene. These figures represent groups who were not only affected by the coming revolution, but whose rights were beginning to be redefined at the time of Oertel's composition.
Our consideration of the past can directly reflect our present, as this work illustrates. This video animation invites visitors to contemplate their own places in a lively historical continuum.
Upcoming Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society
AIDS in New York: The First Five Years
June 7, 2013 - September 15, 2013
For those who lost partners, children, siblings, parents, and friends to HIV/AIDS in the later years of the twentieth century, the memory of grief, fear, and mystery which pervaded New York at the beginning of the epidemic remains vivid. But for many New Yorkers and others today, this early period is virtually unknown. The activist movements that changed the nation’s approach to catastrophic disease have overshadowed the panic of this period when a new and fatal enemy to public health was in its earliest stages and no one knew how to combat it.
AIDS in New York: The First Five Years will explore the impact of the epidemic on personal lives, public health and medical practices, culture, and politics in New York City and the nation. Drawing from the archives of the New York Public Library, New York University, and the National Archive of LGBT History, the show will use posters, photographs, and artifacts to tell the story of the early years of AIDS in New York.
From Colony to Nation: 200 Years of American Painting at the New-York Historical Society
June 7, 2013 - September 08, 2013
This exhibition of American art, drawn from the New-York Historical Society's venerable collections, presents a chronological and thematic survey of masterworks ranging in date from 1720 to 1917. Included are Colonial, Federal and Gilded Age portraits; Hudson River School landscapes; marine and maritime paintings, with a focus on works inspired by the War of 1812; and genre, history, and narrative subjects.
Weaving throughout the installation will be a medley of artist portraits that traces American masters from Benjamin West’s London studio to the mid-nineteenth century ateliers of New York. Highlights include works by Gerardus Duyckinck, Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Thomas Birch, Thomas Buttersworth, William Sidney Mount, John F. Kensett, John Singer Sargent and Childe Hassam.
Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York
June 21, 2013 - September 1, 2013
With his calligraphic brushstrokes and densely cluttered, multi-figured compositions, Reginald Marsh recorded the vibrancy and energetic pulse of New York City. In paintings, prints, watercolors and photographs, he captured the animation and visual turbulence that made urban New York life an exhilarating spectacle. His work depicted the visual energy the city, its helter-skelter signs, newspaper and magazine headlines and the crowded conditions of its street life and recreational pastimes.
His subjects were not glamorous or affluent New Yorkers, but those in the middle and lower class—Bowery bums, burlesque queens, Coney Island musclemen, park denizens, subway riders and post-flapper era sirens. Marsh was fascinated by the crass glamour, gaudiness and sexuality these city inhabitants exhibited in public, as well as by the humanity expressed by those living under severe economic and social duress. His technical combination of choppy brushwork and thinly applied tempera created the effect of a continual surface flickering, which causes the eye to move without rest from place to place across the painting. Marsh heightened this sense of agitated and accelerated movement by means of asymmetrically framed scenes and avoidance of an obvious focal point. The result was a sequential unfolding of episodes across his canvas surfaces, which evoked the transience, motion and vitality of New York City in the 1930s.
Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America
September 27, 2013 - March 09, 2014
Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America examines the remarkable critical and popular resurgence of portraiture in the United States during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. The exhibition —presenting over sixty works of art as well as period photographs and graphic materials, all from the New-York Historical Society—will investigate the strong cultural and social legacy of the American portrait tradition, with particular emphasis upon the New York sitters so well represented in New-York Historical's rich collection. With the amassing of great fortunes founded on industrial expansion, came the impetus to document the appearance of those who propelled and benefited from burgeoning wealth, thus echoing a cultural pattern reaching back to the colonial era.
The Armory Show at 100
October 11, 2013 - February 23, 2014
This exhibition will revisit the famous 1913 New York Armory Show on its 100th anniversary. The original exhibition, organized by a small group of American artists and presented at the Lexington Avenue Armory, introduced the American public to European avant-garde painting and sculpture. The public sensation and the polemical critical responses to the show represented a watershed in the history of American art. The exhibition included works by such well-known European modernists as Paul Cezanne, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin, as well as leaders of American art such as Robert Henri, Albert Pinkham Ryder and Childe Hassam, along with the early work by such budding modernists as Charles Sheeler, Marsden Hartley and Stuart Davis.
The Black Fives
March 14, 2014 - July 20, 2014
This exhibition covers the pioneering history of the African American basketball teams that existed in New York City and elsewhere from the early 1900s through 1950, the year the National Basketball Association became racially integrated. Just after the game of basketball was invented in 1891, teams were often called “fives” in reference to their five starting players. Teams made up entirely of African American players were referred to as “colored fives,” “Negro fives,” or black fives—the period became known as the Black Fives Era.
Dozens of all-black teams emerged during the Black Fives Era, in New York City, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlantic City, Cleveland, and other cities where a substantial African American population lived. The Black Fives Era came to an end in the late 1940s with the growth in stature of black college basketball programs combined with the gradual racial integration of previously whites-only collegiate basketball conferences and professional basketball leagues. The overarching significance of the Black Fives Era is that it is as much about the forward progress of black culture as a whole as it is about the history of basketball. This history is relevant today not only as a realization of our collective basketball roots but also as a search for identity.
The exhibition will be a collaboration and partnership between the New-York Historical Society and Claude Johnson, a historian and author who is the founder and executive director of the Black Fives Foundation, whose mission is to research, preserve, exhibit, and promote the inspiring pre-1950 history of African American basketball teams in order to help teach life lessons, while honoring its pioneers and their descendants. Among its activities, the organization maintains a collection of artifacts, ephemera, memorabilia, objects, photographs, images, and other material relating to the period.