Most Americans are familiar with their own local city, such as New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles, as well as smaller cities. These cities are staples of our daily lives and we hold definitive images and opinions about each one of them.
The Princeton University Art Museum wants you to forget them.
In the museum’s exhibit “The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, 1960-1980,” which opened Feb. 21 and runs until June 7, visitors are encouraged to take a hard look at their held images of cities they have traveled to and read about and question where those images came from and if they represent reality.
The catalyst for this questioning of reality comes from the exhibit’s collection of photographic and cinematic works that depict massive social unrest, political protests, labor protests and race riots throughout the ’60s and ’70s and the urban change that followed suit in three of the country’s largest cities.
“I really hope that many of the visitors walk out and don’t think about their surroundings in the same way,” said Katherine Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell curator of photography. “Although this focuses on the largest cities, there are enough themes present that will even resonate with towns like Princeton.”
Bussard said there are generally two types of visitors who have headed to the exhibit —students who are experiencing the historical era through the collection as well as the generation who lived through the period and is bringing their experiences to what they see displayed, which can augment their impressions or even challenge them.
By delving deeper into the period of change of the ’60s and ’70s , students also are making connections to social and urban change that they see around them today. Bussard said one such connection can be found in “The Destruction of Lower Manhattan,” a collection of photographs by Danny Lyon, published in 1967, which can be found at the exhibit.
Although many students find it hard to imagine, at that time, industry was moving out of New York City and the city almost declared itself bankrupt. In the collection, Lyon photographed buildings that were slated for demolition during the redevelopment of lower Manhattan. By viewing photographs such as these, students are making connections to similar events that are occurring now in Detroit.
“By publishing this and dealing with questions of urban renewal, Lyon is also preserving these buildings,” said Bussard.
Besides preserving the history of historic events, some artists featured in the exhibit also work to bring about change in their work and in some cases, they succeed, and the effects can be seen in a city’s changing landscape.
New York, Chicago and Los Angeles were chosen as the focus, since as three of the nation’s largest cities, urban change was felt very acutely and was concentrated within them.
The artists whose works are featured in the exhibit, which was hosted in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, include Garry Winogrand, Ed Ruscha, Allan Kaprow and Shadrach Woods, to name a few.
The Princeton Art Museum projects that by closing on June 7, 75,000 people will have visited the exhibit, which holds a theme of “urban change,” said Bussard. “There are both moments of crisis as well as optimism exhibited in this collection,” she said. “This isn’t just the city lost, but also the city found.”
THE CITY LOST AND FOUND: CAPTURING NEW YORK, LOS ANGELES AND CHICAGO, 1960-1980
Where: The Princeton University Art Museum on the Princeton University campus, a short walk from Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. Once on campus, follow the lamppost Museum banners to McCormick Hall
When: From Feb. 21 to June 7
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.