Monday, December 12, 2011

The New-York Historical Society: Treasures and Ephemerals

That hyphen is historic. It was in common usage when the New-York Historical Society was founded in 1804, so they are not about to change it now. However, the venerable institution has just completed extensive renovations to its newly reopened landmark Central Park West building. Viewers get a brief but informative tour of the facilities and collections of one of the nation’s premiere museums and research libraries in Treasures of New York: The New-York Historical Society, which premieres this Thursday on New York’s Thirteen.

Soon to be available on the PBS affiliate’s website for out-of-state viewing along with previous installments of Treasures, N-YHS should be incredibly helpful for anyone planning a trip to the City. Frankly, in the early 1990’s, it was somewhat doubtful whether the ailing N-YHS would make it into the Twenty-First Century. However, new leadership, including historically conscious board members Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, turned around the Society’s fortunes. It has since staged a number of buzz-generating exhibitions, like the remarkable Hamilton exhibit and programming staged in 2004.

Viewers will also get a sense of some of the N-YHS’s surprising collections, including some of the world’s largest holdings of Audubon paintings and Tiffany lamps. The Society also boasts extensive ephemeral archives, such pamphlets, tabloids, and broadsides, considered rubbish in their time, but now invaluable for researchers. All of this is now much more accessible thanks to their ambitious restoration and reconstruction efforts, some of which are documented in Treasures. Evidently, refurbishing and installing the ceiling of Keith Haring’s Pop Shop in the museum’s entry hall was especially tricky.

This is all good stuff for museum buffs. Frankly, the N-YHS has traditionally been the redheaded step child of New York’s museum, but the latest episode of Treasures should help attract many new visitors. It is like an infomercial for a worthy cultural institution you might not be so familiar with. Straight forward but interesting viewing, N-YHS airs this Thursday (12/15) on New York’s WNET, next Monday (12/19) on NJTV, and the following Tuesday (12/20) on WLIW, with online streaming to follow.

(Photos: Platt Byard Dovell White Architects/Megan Thompson)