Coney Island

Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008

Edited by Robin Jaffee Frank; With contributions by Charles Denson, Josh Glick, John F. Kasson, and Charles Musser

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A captivating look at Coney Island and its iconic place in the history of American art

Called “America’s playground,” Coney Island is a world-famous resort and national cultural symbol that has inspired music, literature, and films. This groundbreaking book is the first to look at the site’s enduring status as inspiration for artists throughout the ages, from its inception as an elite seaside resort in the mid-19th century, to its evolution into an entertainment mecca for the masses, with the eventual closing of its iconic amusement park, Astroland, in 2008 after decades of urban decline. How artists chose to portray Coney Island between 1861 and 2008—in tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares—mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era.
This dazzling catalogue highlights more than 200 images from Coney Island’s history, including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, film stills, architectural artifacts, and carousel animals. An extraordinary array of artists is represented, from George Bellows, William Merritt Chase, Reginald Marsh, and Joseph Stella to Diane Arbus, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Frank, Red Grooms, Weegee, and Swoon. Essays by prominent scholars analyze Coney Island through its imagery and ephemera as both a place and an idea—one that reflected the collective soul of the nation. 

Robin Jaffee Frank is chief curator and Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. 


Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art(01/31/15–05/31/15)

San Diego Museum of Art(07/11/15–10/13/15)

Brooklyn Museum(11/20/15–03/13/16)

McNay Art Museum, San Antonio

"This book looks at Coney Island’s enduring status as inspiration for artists over many years, from its inception as an elite seaside resort in the mid-19th century, to its evolution into an entertainment mecca for the masses, with the eventual closing of Astroland, in 2008, after decades of urban decline."—Annie Coreno, Publishers Weekly

"[Coney Island] memories are occasioned by the publication of a dazzling, dizzying new book/exhibition catalog Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008."—Peter Stamelman, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

"As befits a dreamland, the exhibit—curated by Robin Jaffee Frank, who also wrote much of the show’s excellent, richly illustrated catalogue—is a mix of artifacts and artworks and a trove of suggestive juxtapositions."—The New York Review of Books

"Students of both social history and American art history will be richly rewarded by this book, which is a valuable resource for anyone interested in American visual culture."—Christopher C. Oliver, Panorama Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art

Winner in the 2015-2016 New York City Book Awards sponsored by the New York Society Library
ISBN: 9780300189902
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Publishing Partner: Published in association with the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
304 pages, 9 1/2 x 11
228 color + 77 b/w illus.
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