On September 8, 2011, the New-York Historical Society opened its doors to our Remembering 9/11 installation. With photographs, newspaper clippings and audio accounts of the events of September 11, 2001, we wanted our gallery to be a place to remember and reflect on the events and the time that has passed. With that in mind, we’ve encouraged those who visit to share their thoughts in a guestbook or on our Facebook and Twitter pages. So far, they’ve had a lot to say.
Below is a visual of the most common words and phrases shared by those who have left their thoughts with us; the collection straddles the line between painful and hopeful, with words like “tragedy” juxtaposed with “building” and “survivors.” It’s a testament to the pain felt in the city, and the country, but also our ability to endure and thrive as a nation of people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Here are a few reflections from the visitors so far:
“I had been resisting participating in 10th anniversary events but this feels just right. Thank you.”
“It’s so painful to revisit and yet so important to never forget all three thousand who died that day and all the others who have died of lung diseases because they helped clean up.”
“Memories sometimes fade away with time. A look at your exhibit, however, opens them up with such heart wrenching pain that Americans must never forget a tragedy of such magnitude.”
Remembering 9/11 is on display through April 2012, and is free now through November 10, 2011. here is new york @ 195 Broadway, a special memorial exhibition of more than 500 images on loan from the New-York Historical Society, is also on view in the historic lobby of 195 Broadway, presented by L&L Holding Company. We encourage visitors to leave their thoughts on both exhibits with us in our guestbook at Remembering 9/11, or on Facebook and Twitter.
When the New-York Historical Society reopens in November, the 77th Street Rotunda will be adorned with four works from artist Richard Haas’ Cityscapes cycle—paintings which depict a 360 degree view of New York City’s skyline. Originally displayed in the employee dining room of the Philip Morris headquarters in 1982, Haas tells us his goal was to bring the building’s stunning views to everyone. “When I was shown the sub-basement area allocated for the cafeteria I immediately thought of the executive lounges at the top of the building and what great views they had by comparison…I went to the Lincoln Building next door and took 360 degree photos.”
The original 22 paintings, which show a simplified view of the skyline at sunset, were donated to New-York Historical in 2008 by Altria (formerly the Philip Morris Company). Given that the paintings were commissioned in 1982, visitors will notice something sadly missing from the skyline: the Twin Towers. But Haas says the towers add to the context of the paintings: “The twin towers dominated the view of lower Manhattan at that time as much as the Empire State dominated the foreground.”
That context is something Haas wants visitors to consider when the work is displayed in the rotunda. “It would be good if people seeing the four works taken from the panorama of Manhattan could have some idea of the original ambiance of the piece or they might not totally understand these pieces,” he said. But context aside, it is paintings like this that can introduce a new generation to the beauty and history of the New York skyline.
Art inspires, and sometimes what it inspires is other art. When composer Nell Shaw Cohen first saw Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire at the New-York Historical Society, she was inspired to write a piece that represented the story seen in Cole’s series. One of the defining works of the Hudson River School of painting, The Course of Empire depicts the growth of a fictional civilization, from birth to power to ultimate demise. We spoke to Cohen about her process and how the piece will be used to engage museum goers, introducing them to the deeper emotion behind the paintings, which are currently part of the traveling exhibition The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. They will travel to the Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC (November 17, 2011–April 1, 2012) and the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR (May–August, 2012) before returning to the New-York Historical Society.
New-York Historical: Tell us a little about what you felt when you first saw The Course of Empire paintings. What first made you want to compose this piece?
Nell Shaw Cohen: When I saw the paintings at the New-York Historical Society in 2008 I found them very compelling, and the time from first seeing the paintings to beginning to write the music was a matter of weeks. In particular, the evolution of the landscape and its moods shown through weather and light spoke to me as a kind of universal, almost abstract, narrative that would translate very well into music. Cole's combination of epic scale with detail and nuance is of course very engaging to the eye; and the imagery is incredibly bold, dynamic, striking. There's a lot there to respond to.
New-York Historical: The website says this is a not-for-profit educational resource. How will this be used as such?
Cohen: "The Course of Empire" website is part of a larger project called Beyond the Notes, a new model for multimedia websites and mobile web apps to accompany arts events. I will be creating several more of these websites for pieces I've composed, but my long-term goal is to collaborate with other presenters and arts institutions to develop Beyond the Notes companions that their audiences can enjoy for free online.
New-York Historical: How long did the composition take you?
Cohen: A relatively short period for a piece of this length (15 minutes)—a little over a month, if I remember correctly. It was actually one of the most fun composing experiences I've had!
New-York Historical: Will the piece be performed anywhere after PEM?
Cohen: "The Course of Empire" will also be featured on an evening-length concert of music I've composed inspired by the works of visual artists including O'Keeffe, Burchfield, and Michelangelo, among others. That's taking place November 2 at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. I'll be posting updates about that on my website.
Beyond that, I hope to find another opportunity to have the piece performed at a museum where the paintings are on exhibit. I feel the music will be best experienced when presented in the context of the paintings themselves.
New-York Historical: What do you hope people take away after hearing the composition?
Cohen: I'm a huge fan of visual art, and a composition like this is an extension of my desire to express and share with people what I find especially interesting or meaningful about an artwork. If someone comes away from listening to my string quartet with a deeper sense of engagement with the paintings, and feels that they were able to enter the world of the paintings in a different way than they had before—similar to the way that a score reinforces the emotional and aesthetic experience of a film—then I would feel that my music was a success!