Smith Gallery Fact Sheet

The Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History

Fact Sheet

The creation of a new 3,400-square-foot Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History from a series of previously enclosed spaces is a key component of the New-York Historical Society’s renovation project.  For the first time, visitors entering the building from Central Park West will immediately see into the heart of the building, thanks to an elegant reconfiguration of the entrance space and the opening of a vista to the interior through a broad wall of glass. Visible at once through the glass will be the displays of the Smith Gallery—the first permanent installation at New-York Historical to sketch out the themes addressed by the institution, provide an overview of the priceless collection and orient visitors to the experiences they may encounter. The principal components of the Smith Gallery exhibition will be:


Created by the New York-based artist Fred Wilson (who represented the United States at the 2003 Venice Biennale), this sculptural installation takes objects from New-York Historical’s collection and arranges them into a complex and engaging composition, where the possible meanings of the artifacts seem to shift as the visitor walks through the space and views the work from different viewpoints. Originally conceived New-York Historical’s 2006 exhibition Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery, the work incorporates items including a section of wrought iron balustrade from the original Federal Hall, where George Washington took the oath of office as President; slave shackles and tags; an anonymous tobacco shop figurine of an African American man; and busts and images of Washington, Napoleon and Toussaint Louverture.

New York and the American Experience and Collections Highlights

New York and the American Experience is an installation on six structural columns in the Smith Gallery. Flanked by art and objects from New-York Historical’s collections, touch-screen stations will allow visitors to investigate large themes that represent points of intersection between the histories of New York City and the United States: Commerce, Culture, Expansion, Reform, Immigration and Slavery. On the other side of the columns, facing Central Park West, a dozen large-scale, high-definition monitors will present a continuous, thematic slideshow of Collection Highlights from New-York Historical’s collections.

Funding for the New York and the American Experience and Collection Highlights was provided by Bloomberg, L.P.

Michael and Leah Weisberg Monumental Treasures Wall

A ten-foot-high display case beyond the columns will showcase large-scale maps, architectural drawings, documents and other works on paper, which previously could not be exhibited because of their size and light sensitivity. The first version of this changing installation will include the eight-foot-square Popple map (1733) of British possessions in North America, flanked by the Montresor map of New York City (1776) and the Battle of Long Island Map (August 27, 1776). Future installations will include selections from the architectural collections; the “Rink” Plan, a design submission for New York’s Central Park; documents such as Napoleon’s authorization for the Louisiana Purchase; a map of the Jay Treaty, marked in John Jay’s hand; and exceptional photographs and prints from the library collections.

New York Rising

The centerpiece of the Smith Gallery, this installation draws from New-York Historical’s collections to examine New York’s critical role in United States history during the early Federal period, from around 1776 through 1804, the year of the New-York Historical Society’s founding. A contemporary reinterpretation of a nineteenth-century salon-style art installation, New York Rising will feature a dense hanging of paintings, documents, and artifacts, divided into five sections: Revolution, examining the American Revolution in New York; Marketplace, exploring how New York rebuilt itself after the Revolution; Capital, describing the era in which the histories of the city and the nation converged – from tastemaking to the Bill of Rights; Politics, uncovering the partisan factionalism of the Federalist era; and Civilization, revealing how New York’s diverse interests propelled the city to become the leading metropolis in the United States.

A dynamic concept developed by the David Small Design Firm (Cambridge, MA) will allow visitors to learn about the web of relationships among the events, ideas and people depicted on the wall by using touch-screen monitors, positioned only a few feet away from the objects themselves.

here is new york

Facing the New York Rising wall is here is new york, a rotating selection from the approximately 6,200 photographs taken by the people of New York City on September 11, 2001, and immediately afterward. These images by hundreds of contributors were first collected in an almost impromptu exhibition in SoHo soon after 9/11. The collection echoes the New York Rising theme of resilience, renewal and transformation emerging from the ashes of catastrophic events. Accompanying the photography installation will be a large fragment of a fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 attack.

The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization

At the opposite end of the Smith Gallery from New York Rising and Here is New York  will be Thomas Crawford’s monumental sculpture The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization (ca. 1856). A version of this important work is installed in the sculptural pediment over the U.S. Capitol’s east front.

History Under Your Feet    

In 1918, the New-York Historical Society founded the Field Exploration Committee, headed by the amateur archaeologists William Calver and Reginald P. Bolton, to explore and document historic sites in New York City and State and to recover and catalogue their artifacts. This work made New-York Historical a pioneer in the field of urban archaeology years before it became a professional discipline. Twelve manhole-like, circular exhibition cases, installed flush to the floor, will be dispersed throughout the Smith Gallery, showcasing relics such as arrowheads, military buttons, bullets, a colossal oyster shell excavated at an extant 19th-century tavern, a pair of shoes recovered from the 1904 fire on the General Slocum passenger ship (the worst New York disaster before 9/11) and a clock from the World Trade Center 9/11 debris recovered from the Fresh Kills landfill. The manholes will be part of a lively history-themed, educational scavenger hunt for visitors called History Under Your Feet. Through these objects, visitors of all ages will be introduced to the notion that history is all around us, even underfoot, in the modern city. Funding for the History Manholes and History Under Your Feet was provided by Con Edison.

Keith Haring’s “Pop Shop” Ceiling Fragment

The ceiling over the admissions desk will be adorned with a fragment from Keith Haring’s “Pop Shop,” a store in the SoHo area of lower Manhattan that sold the artist’s graffiti-inspired t-shirts and souvenirs until after his death in 1990.


Creative: Tronvig Group