Curated by Danny Moynihan
NEW YORK | SOHO
June 23 - August 5, 2023
The beach is a natural boundary. On one side is what we know, terra firma; but on the other is the deep unknown, a place of beauty but also of danger, hostile not just as a volatile expanse but also as what that expanse might contain.
Throughout history, humans have treated the shoreline with awe and humility. It was, after all, the place of shipwrecks and invasion, of pirates, tsunamis and squalling storms. In the ancient world, it was the residing home of, amongst many others, the terrifying mythological figures of Poseidon, Triton, Scylla and Charybdis, to name but a few.
It was not until the late 18th century and the Age of Enlightenment that the idea of landscape in general began to change. Casper David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner made paintings of the sea with an intensity that was almost religious, the wrath of the sea and its huge expanse a thing of wonder imbued with spiritual awe.
As the notion of landscape changed in art and literature so did the science. It was thought the sea air and the bracing seaside walks were a good constitutional, so in the mid-19th century in the small seaside town of Scarborough in Northern England a resort was made for just this kind of activity. It was quickly followed by many others not only in the United Kingdom but all across Europe. This dramatic change was reflected in painting by most Impressionists and Post-Impressionist for the rest of the 19th century.
In the early twentieth century F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Murphys inadvertently made popular the idea of sitting by the beach on the Côte d’Azur in semi-undress in the heat of the sun. Henceforth, the umbrella was cast away for the parasol, under which people lay in states of undress, thus casting away the old notions of 19th century propriety. Matisse and Picasso quickly took up themes of the bathers by the seaside (famously, with Picasso, in the Baigneuse series). One could say that from that point on, the seaside became glamourous and exotic. As a result, the beach has now transformed from being an undesired wilderness into a highly prized destination where people not just holiday but go to live and work. This obviously has had a transformative effect on the landscape and the fragile eco system that made it so attractive in the first place.
We hope this exhibition will explore all aspects of the shoreline—and in so doing will tell the vital story of humanity’s ever-changing relationship to this delicate piece of the natural world.