September 1, 2009
by Murrye Bernard Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Exhibition: “Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City” (through 10.12.09); “Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson” (through 09.27.09); “Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered” (through 09.13.09)
Location: Museum of the City of New York

Mannahatta-Manhattan

“Mannahatta/Manhattan.”

Courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society

Four hundred years after Henry Hudson’s discovery of what has become Manhattan, the Museum of the City of New York is exhibiting three very different shows to celebrate this historic event. Viewing Manhattan both before it was “discovered” as an early Dutch settlement and in its modern-day incarnation, the lasting influence of the Dutch is undeniable.

“Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City” depicts the island at the time of Hudson’s arrival — a pristine, natural environment. Called Mannahatta by the local Lenape Indians, which may have meant “island of many hills,” the lush island was home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals. The exhibition explores the themes of density, diversity, openness, locality, interdependence, and home. Multi-media displays include a topographical model of pre-1690 Manhattan, onto which several maps are projected showing beaver distributions, streams, and biodiversity. Pods contain backlit screens illustrating the natural environment, and viewers move through the show under taxidermy mountain lions, bears, and birds that once inhabited the region. The exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society and based on Eric W. Sanderson’s “Mannahatta Project.

“Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson” presents the settlement of Manhattan by the Dutch, showing how its imprint on Manhattan extends today, evident in art, politics, business, and even street names (Broadway is Breede Weg in Dutch, and Bowery is Bouwerij). On display are rare 16th- and 17th-century paintings, engravings, and documents, and everyday objects from life in the early settlement — as well as a large-scale model of New Amsterdam. Visitors can listen to period songs and personal accounts of life in New Amsterdam. The exhibition is designed to make visitors feel as if they in the hull of a ship, complete with sails suspended above.

Finally, “Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered” features the work of contemporary Dutch photographers who have captured portraits of New York as it is today. Described as “modern work, firmly rooted within the Dutch tradition,” the portraits, landscapes, still lifes, conceptual, and documentary photography are by artists including Rineke Dijkstra, Charlotte Dumas, Hendrik Kerstens, Erwin Olaf, Danielle van Ark, and Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.

Murrye Bernard, LEED AP, is freelance architectural writer and is a contributing editor to e-Oculus.

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