For Black Friday, quite a few museums offered free admission which allowed my friend and former fellow performer with the Flying High Circus to tour “Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010” at Bard Graduate Center.
This was the perfect exhibit for us – tracing our family tree in a way. Apparently it attracted other “circus freaks” as we were informed by the very friendly admissions attendant who graciously asked us about our acts (Roman Rings, Triple Trapeze, Spanish Web for my friend & tightwire for me).
The thoughtfully curated exhibit (Curated by Matthew Wittmann, a curatorial fellow at the BGC, the exhibition features more than two hundred objects and images selected from both local and national collections, including the New-York Historical Society, the International Center of Photography, the Somers Historical Society, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the New York State Museum, the Circus World Museum, the Barnum Museum, the Library of Congress, the Witte Museum, and the Shelburne Museum, per the website) covers three floors and managed to hold balance between photos, costumes, posters, props, and video. The circus can be a difficult subject to navigate due to the nature of creating spectacle of people and animals. In this exhibit, I was able to celebrate some of the amazing feats nameless performers contributed to circus arts while remaining soberly aware of the social and ethical issues present.
There were moments of humor, shock and awe, and sadness – a touching blend of the nature of the circus. This exhibit gives identity and acknowledgement of the many artists who remain anonymous because their history is ephemeral and undocumented. Did you know a dozen or so elephants once walked up Broadway?
The Bard Graduate Center Gallery is located in New York City at 18 West 86th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The admission fee is $7 general, $5 senior and students (valid ID); admission is free Thursday evenings after 5 p.m. For more information about the Bard Graduate Center and upcoming exhibitions, please visit bgc.bard.edu.
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