Transformed! The New-York Historical Society Re-Opens to the Public on November 11 in its Renovated Landmark Home

November 2nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

NEW YORK, NY, April 12, 2011 – Throwing wide its doors as never before, the New-York Historical Society will re-open its landmark building to the public at 11 am on Veterans’ Day, Friday, November 11, 2011. A three-year, $65 million renovation of the Central Park West building has sensitively but thoroughly transformed the face of the institution—the first museum established in New York—to welcome visitors of all ages to a great cultural destination, and to immerse them, from the moment they enter the building, in New-York Historical’s collection of extraordinary objects and sweeping ideas.

To help extend the welcome, New-York Historical will remain open on November 11 until 11 pm, offering free admission during that day to veterans and active service members and to children under 13, and free admission for all visitors after 6 pm.

Entering the New-York Historical Society, renovated by the distinguished firm of Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, visitors will encounter:

  • a welcoming admissions area incorporating the ceiling from Keith Haring’s original “Pop Shop, donated to New-York Historical by the Keith Haring Foundation
  • an unprecedented multi-media installation in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History, which introduces major themes of American history through stories and figures from New York’s past; to include a rich selection of objects from New-York Historical’s collection
  • an innovative new facility, the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed especially to engage young visitors as History Detectives exploring the richness and wonder of America’s past
  • the first major special history exhibition in the renovated building, Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, a uniquely ambitious exploration of the interconnections among the American, French and Haitian revolutions
  • a revelatory art exhibition drawn from works in New-York Historical’s collection: Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy offers for the first time an in-depth look at the 19th-century paintings and sculpture collected by the New Yorkers who founded and built New-York Historical
  • an exceptional Italian-themed dining facility operated by the widely acclaimed Starr Restaurants group, offering a light menu throughout the day and full restaurant service at night
  • and a host of other amenities, improvements and experiences designed to “make history matter.”

“I believe 11-11-11 – November 11, 2011 – will be marked as the most important date for our Society since its founding 207 years ago,” stated Roger Hertog, Chairman of the Board of the New-York Historical Society.

“The world has long known that the New-York Historical Society holds unmatched collections in its museum and library,” stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO. “More recently, people have also begun to know us for our vibrant special exhibitions, which bring complex historical themes to life. But we have never before opened ourselves up to the public with such light and transparency, or provided the kind of immediate access to our objects and ideas that we will offer when we re-open in November. It’s as if, at entry level, we are going from being a beautiful treasure house to a great showplace of the American experience.’”

Renovating a Landmark

On the exterior, the renovation project creates a wider main staircase and expanded main entrance on Central Park West; better sightlines into the building from the street; a redesigned 77th Street entrance with improved accessibility for school groups and visitors with disabilities, and dramatic illumination to highlight the architectural features at night and make the building a beacon within the urban landscape.

Inside the building, the project creates New-York Historical’s first new gallery on the ground floor, the 3,400-square-foot Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History; renovates and improves the adjacent Robert H. Smith Auditorium; provides for the new restaurant, renovated Museum Store and Rotunda on the 77th Street side and establishes the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed separately by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership

“Our mission is to assist in transforming the New-York Historical Society into a more active and engaging place, while respecting a century-old landmark by one of America’s most eminent firms,” said Ray H. Dovell, AIA, principal-in-charge of the project for Platt Byard Dovell White Architects. “We believe the strength and beauty of this building’s exterior will stand out in a new light, while the flow of space inside will draw visitors directly into the compelling stories New-York Historical has to tell.”

The building was designed and constructed from1903-1908 by York and Sawyer, a firm established by architects who had trained with McKim, Mead and White. York and Sawyer was also responsible for projects including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Bowery Savings Bank, New York Athletic Club and several of the buildings at Vassar College. In 1938, two new wings were completed at New-York Historical, designed by Walker and Gillette. The current renovation is the most ambitious construction project at New-York Historical since that 1938 expansion.

To increase the street presence gained through the renovation and heighten the building’s identity as a cultural destination, New-York Historical will install bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass at the east and north stairways. The statues are fabricated by Studio EIS.

Creating the Smith Gallery Exhibition

For the first time, visitors coming into the New-York Historical Society from Central Park West will immediately see into the heart of the building, thanks to an elegant reconfiguration of the entrance space and the opening of a vista to the interior through a broad wall of glass. Visible at once through the glass will be the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History.The Smith Gallery is the first permanent installation at New-York Historical to illustrate the themes addressed by the institution, provide an overview of the priceless collection and orient visitors to the experiences they may encounter.

The principal components of the Smith Gallery exhibition will be:

Created by the New York-based artist Fred Wilson (who represented the United States at the 2003 Venice Biennale), this sculptural installation takes objects from New-York Historical’s collection and arranges them into a complex and engaging environment, where the possible meanings of the artifacts seem to shift as the visitor walks through the space. Originally conceived for New-York Historical’s 2006 exhibition Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery, the work incorporates items ranging from a section of wrought iron balustrade from the original Federal Hall, where George Washington took the oath of office as President, to slave shackles and an anonymous tobacco shop figurine of an African American man.

Through the Lens of New York
A dozen large-scale, high-definition digital screens affixed to the columns in the Smith Gallery will present a continuous, thematic slideshow of hundreds of treasures from New-York Historical’s collections. On the other side of the columns, touch-screen stations will allow visitors to investigate large themes that represent points of intersection between the histories of New York City and the United States: slavery, capitalism and commerce, toleration for dissent, immigration and diversity, expansion and westward movement, and the development of America’s low and high culture.

Funding for the Great Hall Columns was provided by Bloomberg, L.P.

Michael and Leah Weisberg Monumental Treasures Wall 
A 10-foot-high display case beyond the columns will showcase large-scale maps, architectural drawings, documents and other works on paper, which previously could not be exhibited because of their size and light sensitivity. In its first version, this changing installation will include the eight-foot-square Popple map (1733) of British possessions in North America, flanked by the Montresor map of New York City (1776) and the Battle of Long Island Map (August 27, 1776).

New York Rising
The centerpiece of the Smith Gallery will be an installation about New York’s critical role in United States history during the early Federal period, from around 1776 through 1804, the year of the New-York Historical Society’s founding. A contemporary reinterpretation of a 19th-century salon-style art installation, the wall will feature a dense hanging of paintings, documents, artifacts and video monitors, divided into five sections: The American Revolution in New York; Mercantile New York City, Coffee House Culture and the Expansion of Urban Space; The Inauguration of George Washington and New York City as the First Capital; The Hamilton-Burr Duel and the Political and Banking System; and The Founding of the New-York Historical Society and the Forging of an American Culture.  A dynamic concept developed by the David Small Design Firm (Cambridge, MA) will allow visitors to learn about the web of relationships among the events, ideas and people depicted on the wall by using touch-screen monitors only a few feet from the objects themselves.

Here is New York
Facing New York Rising will be Here is New York, a rotating selection from the approximately 6,200 photographs taken by the people of New York City on September 11, 2001, and immediately afterward. These images by 790 contributors were first collected in an almost impromptu exhibition in SoHo soon after 9/11. Accompanying the photography installation will be a large fragment of a fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 attack.

The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization
At the opposite end of the Smith Gallery from New York Rising and Here is New York  will be an installation of Thomas Crawford’s sculpture The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization (ca. 1856). A version of this important work is installed in the sculptural pediment over the U.S. Capitol’s east front.

History Under Your Feet
In 1918, the New-York Historical Society founded the Field Exploration Committee, headed by the amateur archaeologists William Calver and Reginald P. Bolton, to explore and document historic sites in New York City and State and to recover and catalogue their artifacts. This work made New-York Historical a pioneer in the field of urban archaeology years before it became a professional discipline. Twelve manhole-like, circular exhibition cases, installed flush to the floor, will be dispersed throughout the Smith Gallery, showcasing relics such as arrowheads, military buttons, a colossal oyster shell excavated at an extant 19th-century tavern and a clock from the World Trade Center debris. The manholes will be part of a lively history-themed, educational scavenger hunt for visitors called History Under Your Feet. Through these objects, visitors of all ages will be introduced to the notion that history is all around us, even underfoot, in the modern city.

Funding for the History Manholes and History Under Your Feet was provided by Con Edison.

Keith Haring’s “Pop Shop” Ceiling Fragment
The ceiling over the admissions desk will be adorned with a fragment from Keith Haring’s “Pop Shop,” a store in the SoHo area of lower Manhattan that sold the artist’s graffiti-inspired t-shirts and souvenirs until after his death in 1990.

Bringing History to Life for Children

Located in a dramatic, 4,000-square-foot vaulted space on the building’s lower level is the newDiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, both designed to engage families as never before.

The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, designed by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, invites children to become History Detectives and learn about the past through the use of historical artifacts and replicas, illustrations and interactive elements. The core of the experience is a series of three-dimensional pavilions, where children can identify with figures whose enterprise and creativity changed the course of our history. These biographical pavilions will introduce children to:

  • Cornelia van Varick (ca. 1692-1733), daughter of Margrieta Van Varick, textile merchant in 17th century New York
  • Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the orphaned immigrant from the West Indies who became a Founder of the United States
  • James McCune Smith (1813-1865), the son of an enslaved woman who became the country’s first university-trained African American physician;
  • Esteban Bellán (1850-1932), a Cuban youngster who became the first Latino to play professional baseball in the United States
  • an Orphan Train girl (ca. 1890), one of the many New York City children transported by the Children’s Aid Society to new homes in the Midwest; and
  • and a New York “newsie” (ca. 1890), one of the children who eked out a living selling newspapers on the street.

In other interactive experiences, young visitors will be able to go to the polls at the Cast Your Vote pavilion; deliver a presidential address at the First President kiosk, featuring a representation of Federal Hall; use the Historical Viewfinder display to see how selected sites in New York City have changed over time; and add their voices to the Children’s History Museum at the installation You Are An American Dreamer, Too.

At the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, young visitors and their families will find an area to sit and read children’s books, and to use interactive displays to explore rare books, manuscripts and maps from New-York Historical’s collection. Surrounding these interactive elements will be artifacts related to the volumes on display.

The development of Children’s History Museum and Library educational materials is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Tracing the Course of Revolution

The New-York Historical Society was born in 1804 in the aftermath of revolutions—in America, France and Haiti—that reverberated like rolling thunder back and forth across the Atlantic, with consequences that are still felt today. To mark its re-opening in 2011, New-York Historical will present Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, the first exhibition to relate the American, French and Haitian struggles as a single global narrative.

Spanning decades of enormous political and cultural changes, from the triumph of British imperial power in 1763 to the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Revolution! traces how an ideal of popular sovereignty, introduced through the American fight for independence, soon sparked more radical calls for a recognition of universal human rights, and set off attacks on both sides of the Atlantic against hereditary privilege and slavery. Among the astonishing, unforeseen outcomes was an insurrection on the French possession of Saint-Domingue, leading to the world’s only successful slave revolt and the establishment in 1804 of the first nation founded on the principles of full freedom and equality for all, regardless of color.

Richard Rabinowitz, founder and president of American History Workshop, serves as chief exhibition curator. Thomas Bender of New York University and Laurent Dubois of Duke University have served as the co-chief historians for Revolution!, drawing on the scholarship of an advisory committee of distinguished historians and specialists.

Following its presentation at the New-York Historical Society (November 11, 2011–April 15, 2012),Revolution! will travel to venues in the U.K., France, and elsewhere in the United States. Educational materials and programs will be distributed internationally, including in Haiti.

The exhibition is made possible with grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) program and The Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Welcoming the Public with Fine Dining

Adding a full-service eatery to its visitor amenities for the first time, the New-York Historical Society has selected Starr Restaurants to create and operate a restaurant in its renovated landmark building. Establishing a welcoming destination for both New-York Historical’s visitors and Upper West Side residents, the new restaurant will have a menu focused on cicchetti, small plates from the Veneto region. The restaurant will be accessible through an independent entrance when New-York Historical’s galleries are closed. Starr Restaurants will also be the exclusive caterer for events at New-York Historical.
One of the fastest-growing multi-concept restaurant companies in the United States, Starr Restaurants is renowned for inventive and spectacular properties such as Buddakan and Morimoto in the Meatpacking District in New York. SLDesign, which recently designed Atlantic Grill near Lincoln Center, will bring warm, contemporary elements to the restaurant space.

About the New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.

New-York Historical is recognized for engaging the public with deeply researched and far-ranging exhibitions, such as Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America; Slavery in New York; Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School at the New-York Historical Society; Grant and Lee in War and Peace; Lincoln and New YorkThe Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New-York Historical Society; and Nueva York. Supporting these exhibitions and related education programs is one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York.

Contact: New-York Historical Society | Laura Washington | (212) 873-3400 x263 | - Ruder Finn Arts & Communications Counselors | Aoife Carlin | (212) 715-1572 |