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Indepth Arts News:

"Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World"
2000-10-14 until 2001-01-27
New York Public Library
New York, NY, USA United States of America

Is a perfect society attainable in an imperfect world- While the question may never be answered definitively, it won't be for lack of trying. Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World, the multi-dimensional exhibition examines the various manifestations - from the biblical Garden of Eden to metaworlds in cyberspace - of that search throughout Western history. Jointly organized by The New York Public Library (NYPL) and the Bibliotheque nationale de France (BnF), Utopia boasts some 550 objects, including a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson's hand; The Green Globe (circa 1506), on which the Americas are shown as a separate continent for the first time; and a first edition of Thomas More's Utopia (1516).

The BnF's version of the show was met with critical acclaim in Paris this spring. NYPL's Utopia will run in New York from October 14 to January 27, 2001. It is one of the largest exhibitions ever presented by the Library, occupying two entire galleries at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street: the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall on the first floor, and the Edna Barnes Salomon Room on the third floor. Admission is free.

A citywide consortium of 17 cultural institutions is presenting a broad range of related events, and two books will be published, including an illustrated companion volume. I first proposed a joint exhibition to the BnF about five years ago. The BnF's leadership readily accepted the concept, said Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. The challenge was to come up with a theme that was suitable to both libraries. It was the ‘El Dorado' episode of Voltaire's Candide that inspired me to propose utopia as a topic. By happy coincidence, our French colleagues were also contemplating an exhibition on this theme. So an agreement to do it together was easily reached. And I'm delighted that, among the treasures coming to us from Paris, is Voltaire's manuscript of Candide, never before seen outside of France.

Utopia comprises books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, maps, photographs, and other objects from the rich collections of both the BnF and NYPL, supplemented by loans from other sources. These compelling materials chronicle utopias, both imagined and attempted, across all forms of literary, artistic, and political expression throughout Western history. Among the treasures on view from NYPL's collections are numerous medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, including Saint Augustine's City of God and a 13th-century illuminated Apocalypse, and the extremely important illustrated letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand announcing his discoveries in the New World, printed in 1493. Highlights of the materials coming from Paris include The Book of the City of Ladies, a 1405 illuminated manuscript written by Christine de Pisan, acknowledged as the first Western woman to live by her pen; and two drawings by the 18th-century French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée, proposing a grand spherical design for Isaac Newton's cenotaph.

[The Garden of Eden]
Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis ad usum Ecclesiae Gallicanae, cum Calendario
Franco-Flemish, late 15th century
NYPL, Spencer Collection

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