The show New York, New York! The 20th Century, on loan to the Hyde Collection from the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., is designed to be a crowd pleaser – and, judging from the reactions I witnessed on a recent weekday visit there, it is – but it is also a worthwhile show for any serious art viewer who may or may not care about the theme but will be thrilled to have a chance to see these 60 or so excellent pieces from the Norton’s collection.
When you enter the show, you are struck by a clever (actually, too clever) subway-style design scheme to the exhibition, which starts with an appropriately understated audio track of screeching train sounds and a large wall emblazoned with the tiles and signage typical of mid-century New York City subway stations. The one work of art at the entry is a large and graphic black-and-white photograph taken in 1941 by Andreas Feininger under the elevated train at Division Street; potent in its structure of steel, sun, and shadow, the photograph sets the course for this show: not so much that it will be about New York, but that it will feature a lot of art that describes the atmosphere of the place as much as its physical details.
Though the rest of the exhibition space is painted a conservative dark maroon, the subway theme carries through in the form of text panels with the black background, primary color dots, and Helvetica type you still see all over New York’s rail system. While these provide useful information, they look odd and distracting here. The show is organized around several sub-themes: On the Waterfront, Avenues and Streets, Tall Buildings, Parks and Recreation, and On the Town, which help to give it form as it spans a good deal of history – both of the city and of art.