The atmosphere at the Valentine Museum of Art at the Philip Howard certainly diffused the tension in the air that was brought about by this weekend. As I walked inside the doors of the apartment building, tired from a day that was both exhausting and emotional, I was greeted by the concierge and several bright-faced individuals who seemed full of anticipation as they greeted me at the door.
Already, the atmosphere seemed to be the antithesis to the gloomy and heavy nature of that particular late afternoon outdoors, and I was glad to experience that change. Inside the gallery’s wide and expansive space, a DJ softly played a cheerful vintage swing. Images of Coney Island, introspective and joyous and weird, filled up the white walls of the gallery space. An exhibit focused mostly on photography and oil paintings, they presented the diverse nature of Coney Island and provided a glimpse into the common appeal of Coney Island as subject to these nine artists.
The artists present were Marc Kehoe, Don Burmeister, John Rossi, Norm Borden, Greg Frux, Hazel Hankin, Larry Racioppo, Ron Meisel, and Jamel Shabazz. There were images of the Mermaid Parade, the abandoned Spook House— as well as very striking oil paintings, some of which captured particular aspects of the personalities of Spook House riders as they sat in pairs on the compartments of the ride. There was a brilliant mix of old and new, reminiscent and progressive, all telling the stories of Coney Island inhabitants— as well the fabled fortune-telling Grandma of Coney Island.
As the gallery began to fill with more people, it got very crowded but also merrier— hors d’oeuvres were served and it became more difficult to move through the gallery without seeing someone’s beaming expression or the figure of Mr. Valentine, who moved through the gallery more quickly that the others, weaving in between different faces and names instead of artworks. As I was about to leave, someone picked up the microphone and called for attention at the small stage, where a tryptich of photographs were hanging. All of the artists, along with Mr. Valentine, were called up to the stage to make a short statement of their work and inspirations.
It seemed to be the case that all artists had seen something in Coney Island which had captured them, and it was wonderful to hear their prevailing passion. But such is the appeal of Coney Island— for some it is a childhood memory; for others, it is a place which is rediscovered. Others yet see Coney Island as a place that both changes and stays the same— a place which seemed to be of the perpetual cusp of catastrophic change even in the era before us. But it had not been bought out— instead, it stays standing because it is a monument culture in New York, asserting its individuality fiercely. Thus it is a landmark which has prevailed even in the wake of a perpetual and looming end, and it was vastly important to see all of it’s personality and resilience revealed on that particular day at the Philip Howard apartments.