Coney Island Artists and the Amusement Utopia
June 24 – October 25, 2013
Bambi the Mermaid / Aaron Beebee / Zoe Beloff / Coney Island Hysterical Society/ Homer Croy / Richard Eagan / William F. Mangels / Philomena Marano / Steve Powers / Marie A. Roberts / Dick D. Zigun
A century ago, there was a revolution in Western ideas of work and leisure that opened up new opportunities for creative entrepreneurs to make their marks on the world. New technologies of display in museums, department stores and amusement parks created a topsy-turvy world in which the skills of artists and creative thinkers were in remarkably high demand, and individuals who could think creatively were suddenly hailed as leaders instead of misfits. These new industries relied on the vision of creative individuals to make money and offered exciting new opportunities for artists and visionaries to make their marks on society, elevating popular culture and paving the way for pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein generations later.
In the 115 years since George C. Tilyou opened Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn, artists, small business owners, and creative individuals have been the leaders in a narrow field of entertainment and amusement that privileged creativity and textual prowess in architecture and design, and offered visitors a place to lose themselves in environments created by nominal outsiders. This strange, special environment continues to look like a world reflected in a funhouse mirror - where a misfit can be mayor and normal, middle-of-the road people are hailed as genius superstars.
The artists in this exhibition have all, at some point in their careers, been inspired by the unexpected freedoms that the amusement industry (at its height as well as in its decline) provides for creative thinkers. They have each gravitated to this nurturing space for their own creative outlet, and made the creative arm of the amusement industry all the richer for it. Inspired by the fantastic stories of Coney Island as a home for outsiders and “freaks”, they all create work that is at times literary and performative – and that references the history of amusement. “Topsy Turvy” celebrates the utopian concepts that bind this evolving artistic community, wherever their work takes them, as it continues to be shaped by shared interests and contemporary practices.