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"Celebrating the City" exhibit captures the constants throughout NYC's history

Is there a city more worth celebrating than New York? Not according to New Yorkers.

And there are plenty of ways to toast to this strange and spirited town. The latest spot to raise a glass to it all is, fittingly, The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), which has just opened Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something.

The exhibit features over 100 photographs capturing the city’s inhabitants, streetscapes, and its fever dream moments, spanning back over a century.

Photographs have long told the ongoing story of New York, where the visual craft takes on a whole new form given that the city is saturated with new subjects at every turn of a corner — in the exhibit, you’ll see everything from architectural achievements (“Harlem Bridge” photographed by John Reid in 1870 is the oldest piece in the collection) to “only in New York moments” (a llama riding in a cab through Times Square!).

A fun fact about that llama: Her name was Linda, and she was on her way to make a television appearance at ABC in 1957. The photo was part of a LIFE magazine shoot, and the spread (featuring photos by Inge Morath) ran with the headline: “High paid llama in big city.”

While the llama thing probably only happened once, Sean Corcoran, a curator at the museum, told Gothamist that the exhibit also presents moments of city life that have been constants throughout different eras.

“We have kind of taken chronology out of the equation. So, you know, you have a picture of old men sitting under the L from about 1940, then you have another photograph from 2010 of old guys sitting in Bryant Park. There’s a certain kind of quality, of life in New York, that is a constant — you know, no matter how much things change here, there’s something about them that’s the same.”

The images you’ll see are from many names you may already know, like Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Sylvia Plachy, Alfred Stieglitz, Rosalind Solomon, Paul Strand, Pablo Delano, Annie Ling and An Rong Xu, Jamel Shabazz and more. The images displayed were chosen from 1,000 photographs recently gifted to the museum by the Joy of Giving Something (JGS), a non-profit organization founded by Howard Stein.

According to the MCNY, “Stein began acquiring photographs in the 1980s, eventually forming one of the most comprehensive collections in private hands, spanning the 19th through the 21st centuries.” The donation brings the MCNY’s photo collection to over 400,000 total. (Did you know you could spend hours a day in their online archives?)

The exhibit is separated into 10 categories: working, going shopping, playing, gathering, loving, gazing, being, reflecting and building — organized as such, it offers “the opportunity to compare how some of the best-known photographers have returned to the same subjects again and again,” the press release notes.

Celebrating the City is now open at the Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St, Manhattan). Hours: Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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