Next stop: Coney Island exhibition at San Diego Museum of Art


The lure Brooklyn’s Coney Island has exerted on the American imagination for more than a century is explored in a summer exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art titled, “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008.”

Featured through Oct. 11, “Coney Island” is composed of more than 150 objects including celebrated icons of American art and rarely seen works from public and private collections.

Examining Coney Island’s evolution from glamorous beach playground to entertainment mecca (and the decay and neglect that followed) the works illuminate the contrasts between this once great place and the artifacts that remain.

There are several activities that will accompany the run, including Culture & Cocktails (Aug. 6), Painting on Tap (July 30), Film in the Garden (July 27, Aug. 3 and 10) and more.

“We are thrilled to be offering our visitors the chance to see an iconic American landmark from a new perspective,” said Roxana Velásquez, the art museum’s executive director. “There are traces of Coney Island throughout San Diego in places such as Belmont Park and in Balboa Park’s history as a fairground, so it’s momentous to have the opportunity to see the artistic impact of a destination with such a rich past.”

An extraordinary array of artists including William Merritt Chase, John Henry Twachtman, Reginald Marsh, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Frank Stella and Red Grooms have works in the exhibit with a mix of drawings, prints, paintings, photographs, film clips and artifacts like carousel animals.

An illustrated companion exhibit catalog has been co-published by the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art and the Yale University Press. It includes the first sustained visual analysis of great works about Coney Island by curator Robin Jaffe Frank, and essays by other cultural historians.

How did Coney Island get its name?

The most popular theory? It came from the Dutch word for rabbit, konijn, derived from a purported large population of wild rabbits, giving it the name Konijn Eiland (Rabbit Island). The name was anglicized to Coney Island after the English took over the colony in 1664.

Other origins include that it came from the name of the Native American tribe, the Konoh, who once inhabited it, or the name Conyn, which appears in a 1816 work on New York place names, believed to be the surname of a family of Dutch settlers who lived there.

Alternative theories include the Irish Gaelic name for rabbit, Coinín. Ireland has many isles named Coney Island, all of which predate this one. Source: Wikipedia