Lecture on Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland


Join Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank, curator/author, for a captivating look at Coney Island and its iconic place in the history of American art and culture. Called “America’s Playground,” Coney Island is a world-famous resort and national cultural symbol that has inspired art, music, literature, and film. 

In this online lecture, Dr. Frank will explore the site’s enduring status as a subject for artists. They captured its inception as a watering hole for the wealthy, transformation into the world’s most famous mechanical amusement center, evolution into a mecca for the masses, decline into a disheveled dreamland, and recent revival. An extraordinary array of artists will be discussed—William Merritt Chase, Joseph Stella, Walker Evans, Reginald Marsh, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, George Tooker, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Daze, and Swoon. Special attention will be given to a work on view at the Museum: Ralph Fasenella’s Workers’ Holiday—Coney Island, 1965, a monumental tribute to the Brooklyn beach infused with political and religious symbolism.  

Many artists perceived this iconic place as a prism through which to view the American experience. Their visions of Coney Island imagined the future and later recalled the past, conveying changing ideas about leisure, and exploring the mixing of people of different races, ethnicities, and classes, transcending social boundaries. How artists chose to portray America’s Playground—in tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams, and nightmares—mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era. Seen through their eyes, Coney Island becomes both a place and an idea—one that reflects the collective soul of our nation.   

Pre-registration is required. Register online at or by calling 772.231.0707 x 136 today. 
Please note: All public programs are subject to change.

Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank Biography
Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank, PhD, curated the exhibition and authored the accompanying award-winning book Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 (Yale University Press, 2015). The exhibition opened at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, and traveled to the San Diego Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, and McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. A version of the exhibition is now traveling across the country through the National Endowment for the Humanities On-the Road program until 2022. 
An independent curator, Robin has organized numerous exhibitions at museums throughout the US, lectured extensively, and published widely on American visual culture from the colonial through contemporary periods. She formerly served as Chief Curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and Senior Associate Curator at the Yale University Art Gallery. Robin holds a PhD in the history of art from Yale University.

photo of Robin Jaffee Frank