Bard Graduate Center in New York City is celebrating its Focus Projects’ series with a new exhibition opening on March 24, 2017. Shedding light on a near-forgotten aspect of New York City’s cultural history, New York Crystal Palace 1853 explores the history and material culture of the first world’s fair held in the United States.
The New York Crystal Palace (formally known as the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations) opened in July of 1853, on the site of what is now Bryant Park, facing Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. Housed in an innovative cast‐iron and glass structure, the Crystal Palace rates as one of the city’s first tourist attractions. It showcased an enormous range of consumer goods and technological marvels of the age, a sampling of which will be presented.
Works on view range from large-scale full-color prints to silver medals, carved furniture and decorative tableware to one of the earliest Singer sewing machines, strategically demonstrated by women at the fair. Developing photographic technology can be seen in salt prints by John Adams Whipple and Victor Prevost. One of the more unusual objects is a patented violin designed by the painter William Sidney Mount, who staged demonstrations at the fair. Audio tours will offer first-hand accounts by individuals such as Walt Whitman, an enthusiastic and frequent visitor, as well as personal stories from two imagined characters — Philip DeGrasse, an African-American carter who lived in Seneca Village and brought his wares to the exhibit grounds, and “Aunt Kitty,” a country rube brought to life from a serialized fictional account.
New York Crystal Palace 1853 was curated by David Jaffee, professor and head of new media research at Bard Graduate Center, who died on January 20, 2017 after overseeing the major components of the exhibition. It is accompanied by a digital publication that also includes the Gallery’s interactive components.
Support for New York Crystal Palace 1853 is provided by The Henry Luce Foundation and other donors.