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The Daily Plant : Monday, May 12, 2008

Greensward Exhibition On View

Detail of Greensward Plan
Photo courtesy of the Herbert Mitchell Collection.

Parks & Recreation and the Central Park Conservancy are proud to present Celebrating Greensward: The Plan for Central Park, 1858-2008. This exhibition is on view at the Arsenal Gallery through June 19. It marks the 150th anniversary of an enduring document, the Greensward Plan for Central Park, by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The large-scale original drawing, which determined the contours of the world’s premier park, a unique and influential work of landscape art, is on rare public display.

Featuring 71 vintage and contemporary photographs, the exhibition highlights selected areas of the park, themes, and particular representative features including: the Harlem Meer, Sheep Meadow, The Mall, the Concert Ground, Bethesda Terrace, The Ravine, Belvedere Castle, Greywacke Arch, Heckscher Playground, Park Staff, The Great Lawn, and The Pond. Also in the show are portraits and biographies of the two park designers, as well as a facsimile of one of Vaux’s preparatory album drawings.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of April 28, 1858, the day on which the Board of Commissioners of Central Park awarded the Greensward plan the winner in a competition that elicited 33 entries. The land for the future park was taken by the State Legislature in 1853, an unprecedented and democratic vision to create an urban park for the people, by the people and of the people, unlike the parks in Europe that were originally grounds that belonged to royalty or the aristocracy.

The exhibition illustrates the story of the park’s history and varied uses, as well as its decline, restoration and revival through a unique and groundbreaking partnership forged in 1980 between the City and the Central Park Conservancy.

In one vintage photograph, a boy sits at the water’s edge of the Harlem Meer, while looming in the distance is the long-forgotten chapel of the Sisters of Charity of Mount St. Vincent, for a time a fine art museum and later restaurant at the park’s north end. In another, a camel from the zoo is hitched to a lawn mower on the Sheep Meadow, a novel method of turf maintenance or an early publicity stunt. Further pictures depict sheep grazing on the meadow that will soon give way to flocks of sun bathers. The majestic elms on the Mall, spaced like the piers of a cathedral, are shown to shelter promenaders over six generations. An orchestral concert of 1910 contrasts with go-go girls at Soundblast ’66. Barbra Streisand takes a star turn on the Sheep Meadow, while Simon and Garfunkel reunite on the Great Lawn.

Other scenes capture Central Park’s transformation and restoration. The Great Lawn materializes, created from the swampy footprint of the old Croton receiving reservoir. The ornamental magnificence of Belvedere Castle, a Victorian folly, and home to the US Weather Bureau since just after 1919, is restored to its former grandeur. The spectacular Moorish Minton tile ceiling of Bethesda Terrace is also revived.

Series of sequential photographs of cascading waterfalls of the Ravine, the graceful Greywacke Arch, and the Heckscher Playground (the park’s first) illustrate patterns of creation, use, decline and restoration. A wall in the show is dedicated to the staff who have sustained this masterpiece of art, from the tradesmen of the 19th century to a group portrait of the staff of Central Park. Horticulture, man-made structures and ornamentation are shown to all have been part of the park’s revival of the past 28 years.

The exhibition is curated by Parks & Recreation’s Director of Art & Antiquities, Jonathan Kuhn and Sara Cedar Miller, historian and photographer for the Central Park Conservancy. The exhibition’s images are courtesy of the New York City Photo Archive, the Central Park Conservancy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Herbert Mitchell Collection, the New York Times Archive, and the Municipal Archives.

The Arsenal Gallery is dedicated to examining themes of nature, urban space, wildlife, New York City parks and park history. It is located on the 3rd Floor of the Arsenal at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue in Central Park. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (closed Memorial Day, May 26). Admission is free.


“There is always some madness in love.
But there is also always some reason in madness.”

Friedrich Nietzsche
(1844 - 1900)

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