April 5, 2017

New York Crystal Palace Shown at Bard Graduate Center Gallery

Victor Prevost. New York Crystal Palace, ca. 1853-54. Salt print photograph. Photography courtesy of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

The first U.S. world’s fair, the New York Crystal Palace opened in 1853 on present-day Bryant Park. Composed of 1,500 panes of glass supported by a cast-iron skeleton, the building was designed by architects Georg J.B. Carstensen and Charles Gildermeister. The Bard Graduate Center recently opened a small show, “New York Crystal Palace 1853,” that examines both the structure and its influence as one of the city’s first tourist attractions. In the show, art and design objects mix with souvenirs and artifacts. Providing a glimpse of items that were displayed at the fair, pieces in the gallery include an iron-and-steel sewing machine, a hollow-back violin, and a rosewood armchair. Other highlights are a rare daguerreotype of the interior space and a salt print of the exterior. A chunk of glass, salvaged after the building was destroyed by fire in 1858, is also on view. Curator David Jaffee passed away in January after overseeing the exhibit’s major components.

Interior View of South Nave of Crystal Palace, 1854. Daguerreotype.  Photography courtesy of New York Historical Society, Cased photograph file, PR 5507.

Accompanying the show are digital resources available online. A series of essays explores facets of the Crystal Palace, including an in-depth study of its construction. A visitor’s companion, modeled after a 19th-century illustrated newspaper, is an interactive guide to the building’s features and design. Another digital component invites a virtual stroll through the Crystal Palace, with highlights of exhibits and displayed objects. Also online are three audio tours that offer personalized perspectives of the fair. A recreation of the voice of poet Walt Whitman, a frequent visitor, is based on his writings and historical sources.

Frederick J. Pilliner. “A Panoramic Representation of the Interior of the Crystal Palace, New York,” from A Panoramic Gleason’s Pictorial, Boston, Saturday, February 4, 1854. Wood engraving on newsprint. Image courtesy of a private collection.

“New York Crystal Palace 1853” is on view at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York until July 30, 2017.

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