From Toy Trains to Post-Modern Design
December is a great time to visit New York’s museums and institutions, as holiday-themed exhibitions transform galleries into magical worlds that can be enjoyed by the entire family. Each of these three shows observes this special time of year with a highly distinctive offering that is characteristic of its unique setting.
Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection at the New York Historical Society
For the third consecutive year, the New York Historical Society is celebrating the season with the spectacular Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection. Culled from the society’s massive Jerni Collection of antique toys, these highlights showcase the beauty and allure of antique toys while illustrating the development of a historically important mode of transportation. Visitors, however, will mainly just find it all a ton of fun. The ride begins at the museum’s 77th Street entrance, where multi-media screens create the sensation of trains whizzing through the rotunda. Here, the rare “Blue Comet” toy train is on view, as well as the colorful Märklin Post Office (1895), an elaborate Doll & Co. Ferris wheel (1904), and a charming Gebrüder Bing carousel (1880s). Much of the first floor has been converted into a dazzling display of handcrafted trains winding along 400-plus feet of railroad track, including a 360-degree mountainous landscape featuring artifacts arranged into 10 different scenes. (Through 2/28; 170 Central Park W. at 77th St.)
Masterpieces & Curiosities: Memphis Does Hanukkah at The Jewish Museum The latest edition of the Masterpieces & Curiosities series at the Jewish Museum, Memphis Does Hanukkah focuses on designer and artist Peter Shire’s Menorah #7 (1986) and illuminates the connection between the Los Angeles native’s work and the resonance of Memphis design. Shire’s pottery and sculpture reflect the irreverent, wry reproach to traditional modernist doctrines that often characterizes West Coast art and artists. In its idiosyncratic disregard for the status quo, it is also typical of the Memphis movement. Founded by Ettore Sottsass in 1981, this Milan-based group of international designers created colorful, often asymmetrical pieces inspired by Art Deco, Pop art, punk, cartoons, toys, and 1950s kitsch. For this show, the usually subdued gallery is vibrant with pattern, color, and imagery. Amid photographic blow-ups of Memphis interiors are various objects by Shire and other designers, including Sottsass and Michele de Lucchi. Jewish Museum Judaica items reminiscent of Shire’s approach are exhibited alongside vintage Memphis pieces.
(Through 2/12, 1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd St.)
Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden
Now celebrating its 25th year, the Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Every year during this time, the Garden grounds are transformed into a winter wonderland, and the sprawling Enid Haupt Conservatory becomes home to dozens of model trains winding around 150 city landmarks made out of leaves, bark, and other natural elements. Ingeniously and painstakingly recreated versions of the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, and New York Public Library, among many other structures, form the backdrop for nearly a half mile of track, along which run large-scale locomotives. It all ends in a whimsical tribute to Coney Island’s iconic architecture and attractions. Meanwhile, outdoors there are a cappella performances, concerts, poetry readings, and activities exclusively for kids. Adults might want to check out Bar Car Nights, which include cocktails like spiked hot cocoa to make the spectacle even more fun.
(Through 1/16, 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx)