Museum of the City of New York to open 175th anniversary exhibit of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery
On May 15th, the Museum of the City of New York will open A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery to mark the 175th anniversary of this National Historic Landmark located in Brooklyn. The exhibition will feature more than 200 objects, ranging from original artifacts, sculptures, architectural drawings, and paintings to historic documents and vintage and newly commissioned photographs, in an installation that lays the cemetery’s landscape plan beneath visitors’ feet.
Predating both Central Park and Prospect Park, Green-Wood was a pioneering example of the “rural cemetery movement” and one of the most important public green spaces in 19th-century America. As the exhibition will demonstrate, the story of Green-Wood Cemetery is multi-faceted, comprising equal parts architectural, art, social, and cultural histories. It has become an increasingly important center of historic, architectural and cultural preservation. Its grounds are a museum of monuments and statuary by leading architects and artists in a wide range of styles. Its bucolic landscape, which reflected changing notions of death and nature, influenced other so-called rural cemeteries and public parks.
The Founding of Green-Wood Cemetery
The founding of Green-Wood Cemetery was sparked by New York City’s enormous growth at the beginning of the 19th century. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 linked New York and its port to America’s western regions, making the city an economic powerhouse and a magnet for waves of immigrants seeking employment. As the population zoomed, existing burial grounds in Manhattan soon filled up, and new ones were required. Green-Wood Cemetery, incorporated on April 18, 1838 in the newly incorporated city of Brooklyn, responded to this need.
From its beginnings, Green-Wood addressed far broader themes and aspirations than its predecessors, and represented a new type of burial place: non-sectarian and not even adjacent to a church. Green-Wood’s bucolic landscape, a prime example of the rural cemetery movement of the 1830s would influence not only the nation’s other rural cemeteries, but also its public parks and outlying suburbs.
At the same time, Green-Wood is an important site in art, architecture, and design and is socially significant as well; burial at Green-Wood quickly attained considerable cachet, attracting the most accomplished New Yorkers to select Green-Wood as their final resting place. As an acknowledgment of these considerable distinctions, Green-Wood in 2006 became only the fourth cemetery in the United States to be designated a National Historic Landmark.
Exhibition Themes and Installation
Green-Wood’s past and present will come together in the exhibition’s introductory gallery. Green-Wood today will be presented via eight large photographs that depict the cemetery in every season. Green-Wood’s founding also will be presented via drawings, maps, and historical documents that look at the cemetery within the context of the rural cemetery movement.
In the exhibition’s main gallery, visitors will walk on a gallery-sized map of Green-Wood Cemetery, which will serve as a framework for the positioning of many of the exhibition’s artifacts. These materials will explore the landscape, art, and architecture of Green-Wood as well the stories of its most celebrated permanent residents.
From its beginnings, Green-Wood’s bucolic setting was a magnet for many leading New Yorkers, with the first generation of its prominent residents attracting future ones hoping to secure their final resting place in exalted company.
Given its picturesque landscape of spectacularly designed monuments, Green-Wood understandably drew special attention from 19th-century artists and architects seeking a final resting place.
Elucidating the myriad contributions that Green-Wood’s residents have made to both New York City and the world, the exhibition will feature artifacts that serve as mementos of the active lives of Green-Wood’s residents. Artifacts on view will be drawn from the cemetery’s own collections, as well as from those of the Museum of the City of New York and other leading museums and institutions.
Major works of art and architecture complement the beauty of Green-Wood’s natural landscape. Starting at its imposing entrance gates, designed in the Gothic Revival style by Richard Upjohn and Son, Green-Wood’s buildings and structures offer a panorama of myriad aesthetic movements and changing tastes from revivals of Egyptian to Romanesque and Renaissance traditions.
The legacy of Green-Wood Cemetery will be explored through the efforts of Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the most important nineteenth-century designers and writers. This section will look at Downing’s influential publications, which praised Green-Wood and influenced urban parks, such as Manhattan’s Central Park. The impact of the picturesque landscapes of rural cemeteries on early American suburbs such as Llewellyn Park, New Jersey, will also be examined.
Additionally, the exhibition’s primary gallery will feature a slide show exploring Green-Wood Today. It will demonstrate how greater public access and innovative programming are re-inventing the site and drawing a new public, convincing people that Green-Wood is more than a cemetery, but an historic urban treasure to experience, explore, and visit again and again.
A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery is organized by Donald Albrecht, the Museum of the City of New York’s Curator of Architecture and Design. The exhibition has been designed by Abbott Miller of Pentagram. The exhibition is made possible by Mr. and Mrs. C. Payson Coleman Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Earl D. Weiner, Ann Walker Gaffney, Gibraltar Mausoleum Construction Company, Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, Regan Agency Inc., and Supreme Memorials, Inc. Additional support is provided by The Green-Wood Cemetery.
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