Central Park


Thursday, May 3, 2018
No. 34

On Display at the Arsenal Gallery from May 3 – June 14, 2018

NYC Parks is pleased to present “1978: The NYC Parks/New York Times Photo Project,” a new exhibition on view this spring at the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park. Curated by Parks’ Director of Art & Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn, the exhibit features 65 of the nearly 3,000 images captured by New York Times photographers in parks citywide between August and November of 1978, during that year’s press corps labor strike. This recently unearthed special collection was a result of former Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis’ hiring of the New York Times photographers to document the city’s parks.

“Parks are where memories are created and this magnificent exhibit will overwhelm you with an emotional glimpse of the past. Whether it’s 1978 or 2018, New Yorkers treasure their parks,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “Parks are for people and the way they bring people together is just as evident now as it was forty years ago. It is an honor to work with the New York Times on such an immense collaboration.”

The late 1970s were a time of reckoning in which the disco Studio 54 and the New York Yankees, led by a swaggering Reggie Jackson, reigned supreme. But rising crime, urban flight and decay led to a sense that the city was growing unmanageable. This was all set against an energy crisis, spiking inflation, and a mood President Carter described as a national “malaise” just a year later. It is this moment in all its complexity and contradiction that these eight photographers captured, in unconventional images, a time capsule of visual candor and insight.

In 1978, when Gordon J. Davis was appointed Parks Commissioner, he inherited a park system in extreme distress. Central Park’s Sheep Meadow was a dust bowl, public pools were shuttered or understaffed, and graffiti was rampant. Following New York City’s fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s and a revolving door of four Parks commissioners in four years, Davis faced a critical moment—either let the parks descend into oblivion, or lead the charge to revive them.

As Davis struggled to manage a system out of control and underfinanced, others in the local economy also faced challenges. On August 10, 1978, press corps at The New York Times, Daily News and New York Post went out on strike in a labor dispute. During the strike the Parks Department hired eight temporarily unemployed Times photographers, among them the legendary Neal Boenzi and Joyce Dopkeen—the first female staff photographer hired by the Times—who were put to work by Davis and dispatched to document the parks system, “warts and all.”

The images in this exhibition are the result of this project. They reveal a cross section of New Yorkers, of all ages and ethnicities, engaging with their parks (despite their frayed fabric) in scenes ranging from tender intimacy to raucous communal experience. The pictures demonstrate simultaneous, competing narratives of chaos and joy, decay and vibrancy.

Included are images of three girls treading lightly on the splintered South Beach boardwalk in Staten Island, the Fiesta Folklorica at Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain, children cooling off at graffiti-marred public pools, street performers at Washington Square Park, beachgoers at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, and young men roasting a whole pig over an illegal barbecue pit. These photographers had an uncanny knack for capturing spontaneous, often surprising images of people enjoying their parks, despite their derelict condition following the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s.

In the decades since, spanning five mayoral administrations, New York City’s parks have had a remarkable renaissance, brought about through considerable public and private investment, improved management, technological innovation, community engagement and citizen participation. It is a revival that was hard won and remains precarious. As the photos of 1978 demonstrate, our parks are essential to civic life, and should never be taken for granted.

Photographers in show: Neal Boenzi, Joyce Dopkeen, D. Gorton, Eddie Hausner, Paul Hosefros, Robert Klein, Larry Morris, and Gary Settle.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Parks will host a special evening with Commissioner Silver:

Wednesday, May 16, 6:00 p.m.
State of the Parks: Now and Then
Commissioner Mitchell Silver in conversation with Gordon J. Davis, Parks Commissioner, 1978-83

Program admission is free but space is limited. To RSVP, please email artandantiquities@parks.nyc.gov.

NYC Parks’ Arsenal Gallery celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2018. The gallery is dedicated to examining themes of nature, urban space, wildlife, New York City parks and park history. It is located on the third floor of Parks’ headquarters in Central Park on Fifth Avenue at 64th Street. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and admission is free. For more information on the Arsenal Gallery, please call 212-360-8163 or visit nyc.gov/parks.

Want to order a photo reprint of a favorite image? Please contact the Parks photo archive at photoarchive@parks.nyc.gov. To learn more visit: https://www.nycgovparks.org/about/photo-archive.

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