10
Jun
14

Exhibition: ‘Bill Cunningham: Facades’ at the New York Historical Society, New York

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 15th June 2014

 

Now this is more like it!

If you want fabulousness with flair, and a dash of savoir-faire; if you want architecture with fashion, history with panache, you need look no further. Camp, kitsch, OTT but with poise, aplomb, grace and sophistication – here is the artist for the job. Oh, what fun he and his muse Editta Sherman must have had with this project.

But behind it all is a damn good photographer, with a great eye for composition. Look at the hat, the building and the “attitude” of the hands in Guggenheim Museum (c. 1968-1976, below). This is how you make people smile and think (about the city, conservation and creativity), not with some overblown frippery like the photographs of Lagerfeld in the last posting.

It’s a pity the press images were initially so poor. I had to spend hours cleaning up the images they were so badly scratched to present them to you in a viewable state. Be that as it may, these are a joy, I love them…

Marcus

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Many thankx to the New York Historical Society for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Unknown artist. 'Bill Cunningham Photographing Three Models at New York County Court House' c. 1968-76

 

Unknown artist
Bill Cunningham Photographing Three Models at New York County Court House
c. 1968-76
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Gothic bridge in Central Park (designed 1860)' c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
Gothic bridge in Central Park (designed 1860)
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Editta Sherman on the Train to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden' c. 1972

 

Bill Cunningham
Editta Sherman on the Train to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
c. 1972
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Guggenheim Museum (built 1959)' c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
Guggenheim Museum (built 1959)
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

 

“This spring, the New-York Historical Society presents a special exhibition celebrating the creative intersection of fashion and architecture through the lens of a visionary photographer. Bill Cunningham: Facades, on view from March 14 through June 15, 2014, explores the legendary photographer’s project documenting the architectural riches and fashion history of New York City.

Beginning in 1968, Bill Cunningham scoured the city’s thrift stores, auctions and street fairs for vintage clothing and scouted architectural sites on his bicycle. The result was a photographic essay entitled Facades (completed in 1976), which paired models – most particularly his muse, fellow photographer Editta Sherman – posed in period costumes at historic New York settings.

Nearly four decades after Cunningham donated 88 gelatin silver prints from the series to the New-York Historical Society in 1976, approximately 80 original and enlarged images from this whimsical and bold work are being reconsidered in a special exhibition curated by Dr. Valerie Paley, New-York Historical Society Historian and Vice President for Scholarly Programs. The exhibition offers a unique perspective on both the city’s distant past and the particular time in which the images were created, examining Cunningham’s project as part of the larger cultural zeitgeist in late 1960s-70s New York City, an era when historic preservation and urban issues loomed large.

“We are thrilled to feature these important photographs by New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, who captured an uncertain moment in our city’s history, when New York seemed on the brink of losing its place of privilege as a capital of the world. Cunningham’s vivid sense of New York’s illustrious past and his unfettered optimism about its future make the photographs among the most dramatic and important documentation of the city’s social history,” said Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “The exhibition is especially timely, as Mrs. Editta Sherman, Bill Cunningham’s muse for his project and the famed ‘duchess of Carnegie Hall,’ passed away last November 2013 at the age of 101. Mrs. Sherman’s indomitable spirit, humor and creativity are powerfully felt through the photographic images. We are gratified that many of her family members will be with us for our opening exhibition event.”

Over eight years, Bill Cunningham collected more than 500 outfits and photographed more than 1,800 locations for the Facades project, jotting down historical commentary on the versos of each print. The selection of 80 images on view evoke the exuberance of Cunningham and Sherman’s treasure hunt and their pride for the city they called home. Cunningham’s images are contextualized with reproductions of original architectural drawings from New-York Historical’s collection.

During the years that Cunningham worked on Facades, New York City was in a municipal financial crisis that wreaked havoc on daily existence, with crime, drugs, and garbage seemingly taking over the city. However, the 1970s also was an era of immense creativity, when artists and musicians experimented with new forms of expression. While Cunningham’s photographs offer an unsullied version of the tough cityscape during this chaotic time, his vision was part of a larger movement towards preserving the historic heritage of the built environment to improve the quality of urban life.

Most images in Facades feel timeless, such as Gothic Bridge (designed 1860), featuring Editta Sherman strolling through a windswept Central Park, framed by the wrought-iron curves of a classic bridge. However, at least one will offer a peek behind the scenes of the project. Cunningham and Sherman often traveled to locations by public transportation to avoid wrinkling the costumes, and Editta Sherman on the Train to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (ca. 1972) captures the jarring juxtaposition of Sherman sitting primly in a graffiti-covered subway car.

Other exhibition highlights include Sherman dressed in a man’s Revolutionary War-era hat, powdered wig, overcoat and breeches at St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard (built ca. 1766-1796), the oldest surviving church in Manhattan, where George Washington worshipped. In Federal Hall (built ca. 1842), Cunningham paired the Parthenon-like architectural details of the building with a Grecian-style, 1910s pleated Fortuny gown. For Grand Central Terminal (built ca. 1903-1913), Cunningham drew on his millinery background to create a voluminous feathered hat that echoes the spirit of the “crown of the Terminal,” the ornate rooftop sculpture with monumental figures of Mercury, Minerva, and Hercules.

Bill Cunningham (born 1929) is a fashion photographer for the New York Times, known for his candid street photography. Cunningham moved to New York in 1948, initially working in advertising and soon striking out on his own to make hats under the name “William J.” After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he returned to New York and began writing for the Chicago Tribune. While working at the Tribune and Women’s Wear Daily, he began taking photographs of fashion on the streets of New York. The Times first published a group of his impromptu pictures in December 1978, which soon became a regular series. In 2008 Cunningham was awarded the title chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. He is the subject of the award-winning documentary film Bill Cunningham New York (2010). Bill Cunningham and Editta Sherman were neighbors in the Carnegie Hall Studios, a legendary artists’ residence atop the concert hall, for 60 years.”

Press release from the New York Historical Society website

 

Bill Cunningham. 'St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard (built c. 1766-96)' c. 1968-76

 

Bill Cunningham
St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard (built c. 1766-96)
c. 1968-76
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Grand Central Terminal (built c. 1903-1913)' c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
Grand Central Terminal (built c. 1903-1913)
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Federal Hall (built c. 1842, costume c. 1910)' c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
Federal Hall (built c. 1842, costume c. 1910)
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Bowery Savings Bank (built c. 1920)' c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
Bowery Savings Bank (built c. 1920)
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Club 21' (founded c. 1920s; costume c. 1940) c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
Club 21 (founded c. 1920s; costume c. 1940)
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Associated Press Building at Rockefeller Center (built c. 1939)' c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
Associated Press Building at Rockefeller Center (built c. 1939)
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'Paris Theater (built 1947)' c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
Paris Theater (built 1947)
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

Bill Cunningham. 'General Motors Building' c. 1968-1976

 

Bill Cunningham
General Motors Building
c. 1968-1976
Gelatin silver photograph
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

 

 

The New York Historical Society

170 Central Park West
at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)

T: (212) 873-3400

Opening hours:
Monday CLOSED
Tuesday – Thursday 10 am – 6 pm
Friday 10 am – 8 pm
Saturday 10 am – 6 pm
Sunday 11 am – 5 pm

The New York Historical Society
 website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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