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Coney Island Muse

For decades, Coney Island has attracted artists to its crowded beaches and lurid rides, its carnival atmosphere soaked with New York City grit. “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008,” a show at the Brooklyn Museum up until March 16, collects depictions and objects from the 150-year history of the place, dating back to its beginning as a vacation destination for New York’s wealthy, throughout its peak and then decline as a populist summer escape from the city’s heat, to its latest incarnation as the site of rezoning and development battles. The show includes paintings and prints and images made by photographers including Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Weegee, Bruce Davidson, Harvey Stein and Morris Engel, who were attracted to the kaleidoscopic range of humanity on display. Also on view is a selection of photos from the museum’s own collection in a parallel show, “Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection.” They range from an 1868 image of beachgoers in full length dresses to photos of the melodramatic architecture of Luna Park and Steeplechase Park at the turn of the last century, from the crush of crowds on the boardwalk in the 1940s to photos made by contemporary artists documenting the enduring appeal of the culture of the place. As these shows prove, Coney Island has undergone enormous change in its 150 year history, but it continues to inspire.

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