The introductory film at the New-York Historical Society demonstrates how easy it is to fill the giant Central Park West building with relevant artifacts. The multi-media experience, "New York Story" condenses 400 years of history to 18 minutes, tying the city to every great moment in American history. Occupied by the British in the American Revolution, the commercial powerhouse behind the victories in every conflict from the Civil War to World War II, the birthplace of social movements and cultural developments, the history of America cannot be told without New York. The historical society undertakes editing and organizing this vast history into digestible pieces.
Situated on an island which I think it will one day cover, it rises like Venice from the sea, and like that fairest of cities in the days of her glory, receives into its lap tribute of all the riches of the earth.
What You Will See
The permanent collection contains some of the most important documents and artifacts in New York and American History. But it also contains the quaint, whimsical detritus of hundreds of estate sales and antique stores. This is the history of great men and women. But it is also the history of the daily lives of New Yorkers, rich and poor, important and forgotten, from four centuries of the city's history. However, with the renovation of the gallery space dedicated to the permanent collection undergoing renovations until 2017, and afternoon getting lost in the gallery must wait. Fortunately, the rest of the museum is filled with compelling temporary exhibits drawn from its extensive and ever-increasing collection.
Why You Should Go
Few museums have a greater distance between how fun they sound to visit and fun they actually are to visit. The name 'Historical Society' conjures scenes of dusty archives full of irrelevant genealogies and damp galleries filled with glowering portraits of forgotten merchants. But this is New York City. Even our historical societies are exciting. While access to the permanent collection is temporarily limited, the remaining gallery space will give you insight into corners of this city's fascinating history and changing identity unavailable anywhere else. And, for the purists, there are still glowering portraits and irrelevant genealogies.
The New-York Historical Society hosts what will be one of the must-see exhibitions of the summer. Get tickets soon (or hit the museum early in the day) as this is a crowd-pleaser. Bill Graham was one of the most influential rock-and-roll promoters in history. Graham fled Nazi Germany as a boy and went on to promote concerts featuring such acts as The Grateful Dead, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and The Rolling Stones. This exhibit traces his long and influential life through the musicians and celebrities with whom Graham worked. Pick up the audio guide for a unique gallery experience.
Before the advent of easy photography, capturing the likeness of an individual was a privilege reserved for those who could afford to commission a portrait. Filling the gap was the unique art of silhouettes, which dominated middle-class parlors through the 19th century. This exhibit collects some fo the museum's best pieces and traces the development of the artform through contemporary practitioners like Kara Walker and Kumi Yamashita (whose installation at the end of the exhibition is particularly impressive).
New York City's (and the Historial Society's in particular) love-affair with Alexander Hamilton continues with this special installation featuring a mourning ring holding a lock of the Founding Father's hair. Mourning jewelry was a fascinating practice of preserving personal mementos, including locks of hair, in a wearable form like jewelry. Featuring relics from not just Hamilton, but Aaron Burr, Abraham Lincoln, and John James Audubon. The exhibition is small, but an informative look at a curious historic practice.
This is the first NYC exhibit produced under quarantine--safely on display outside of the museum. Timed tickets are required to view this unique look at the historical moment we are living through. Kevin Powell and Kay Hickman have curated recent photographs and interviews captured during the New York City quarantine.
Since the historic Women's March in 2017 broke records for single-day protests in the United States and around the world, the historical society has featured some small collection of artifacts from the long history of the movement for women's rights. This summer exhibit combines all these efforts into one exhibit, tracing the history of the movement from early suffragettes through to modern activists. Important, timely, and relevant.
Founded on the great collections of early 19th-century philanthropists like Luman Reed, Robert L. Stuart, and Thomas Jefferson Bryant, highlights from the museum's collection of over 2,500 early American paintings are on display on the second floor. Highlighting the original collectors rather than the individual pieces, you will see works by Thomas Cole, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Wilson Peale, as well as the massive Le Tricorne by Pablo Picasso, which dominates the exhibition hall.
The Historical Society is home to 132 Tiffany Lamps from the collection of Egon Neustadt, the world's premier collector of Tiffany Glass and there have always been samples on display somewhere in the museum. In 2017 the museum opened a gorgeous new gallery to place the lamps on permanent display and tell the story of the men and (mainly) women who contributed to these iconic pieces.