Vincent Munier’s work in The Awe of the Arctic: A Visual History at New York Public Library
February 21, 2024
For centuries, what lies above the Arctic Circle has been a source of intrigue and fascination for those who live below its border. Stories from the ancient Greeks mixed with Norse mythology and reports from early voyages gave rise to lively and creative conceptions of ice-free waters and a fabled people who lived at the top of the world. Expeditions to the Arctic in search of resources and trade routes slowly replaced these legends with more accurate information. Yet even these narrative accounts were still filled with details of a foreign world that excited the imagination. Accompanying illustrations further enhanced the appeal of the polar North because they seemed to promise verisimilitude, giving shape to the incredible. Whether as woodcuts, engravings, lithographs, photographs, halftones, or digital prints, these images continue to captivate. They influence and inform our knowledge, bringing a distant region closer to those unfamiliar with its icy shores.
This exhibition, drawn almost exclusively from the rich collections of The New York Public Library, is a large, multipart survey of how the Arctic has been visually depicted, defined, and imagined over the past 500 years, and invites us to consider how this history relates to our current understanding of the Arctic. The presentation ranges from 16th-century explorers who attempted to capture the perceived strangeness of a remote region to contemporary artists such as Vincent Munier, Sebastian Copeland and Scarlett Hooft Graafland whose work conveys the human impact on its changing climate and vulnerable landscape.
This exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Cronin, Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography, and assisted by Maggie Mustard, Assistant Curator of Photography, in The New York Public Library’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
A co-publication by The New York Public Library and Hatje Cantz, this richly illustrated catalogue with its groundbreaking scholarship is the first to survey 500 years of Arctic imagery. Collectively, the essays explore a trove of books, prints, photographs, maps, and artifacts depicting and representing the nationalities and cultures that have shaped our understanding of the region and the peoples for whom it is home.
New York Public Library
March 15–July 13, 2024