A Beautiful Way to Go
Historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is the final resting place for many 19th century New York notables. Pentagram’s exhibit honoring the cemetery was a 2014 SEGD Global Design Awards winner. What project have you brought to life recently? Enter the 2015 SEGD Design Awards today!
Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn predates both Central Park and Prospect Park, and was one of the most important and influential landscapes of the 19th century. Established in 1838 and now a National Historic Landmark, it was one of the country’s first rural cemeteries and by the 1860s it had earned an international reputation for its beauty.
To commemorate the 175th anniversary of the cemetery in 2013, Pentagram Partner Abbott Miller designed A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery, an exhibition staged at the Museum of the City of New York.
Established in 1838 in what was then a rural area of the city, Green-Wood is a bucolic 478-acre landscape of rolling hills, gentle ponds, meandering paths, and striking Gothic Revival architecture. By the 1860s it was not only considered THE most prestigious place to be buried, it attracted 500,000 tourists each year, second only to Niagara Falls as the nation’s greatest tourist attraction. It’s the final resting place of many New York notables, including the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henry Steinway, and F.A.O. Schwarz.
The cemetery grounds are a museum of monuments and statuary by leading architects and artists including Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Stanford White, and Richard Upjohn, and the iconic Gothic chapel at the main gate was designed by Warren & Wetmore, creators of Grand Central Terminal. Green-Wood eventually inspired the design of Central Park and Prospect Park, as well as the creation of the first suburb, Llewelyn Park in New Jersey.
In a 3,175-sq.-ft. exhibition space, Miller created an immersive, continuous environmental surface by recreating historic maps of the cemetery on the exhibit floor. Just as visitors to the cemetery have strolled the grounds for more than 175 years, visitors to the museum navigated the exhibition encountering objects and stories of Green-Wood’s most famous “residents” that are positioned according to their location within the real landscape.
Artifacts are displayed within a range of illuminated, lantern-like vitrines, conjuring an impression of the park at twilight. A series of maps that document the distinctive, twisting paths and roads of the park are spliced together on the floor, creating a miniaturized landscape. Significant burial plots and the artifacts and images associated with them are arranged according to their position on the map. These objects include a peacock headdress for Louis Tiffany, a pencil for Eberhard Faber, a photographic portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and gold, onyx, and diamond cuff links for Boss Tweed.
The story of the cemetery itself is told through historic documents; sculptures, drawings, and paintings (by Asher Brown Durand, of the Hudson River School); and photographs, including eight large images of the park in different seasons by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao. Vintage guidebooks, prints, and souvenirs capture Green-Wood’s days as a tourist attraction.
The 2014 SEGD Design Awards jury praised Miller’s handling of a delicate subject matter and his “deliberate light touch that keeps the content and artifacts engaging. There is a dignity about the entire mood that is extremely well done.”
For more award-winning projects, see the SEGD Global Design Awards gallery.
Enter your work in the 2015 SEGD Global Design Awards!
A BEAUTIFUL WAY TO GO EXHIBIT
Client: Museum of the City of New York
Location: New York
Project Area: 3,175 sq. ft.
Open Date: May 2013
Design Team: Abbott Miller (art director, designer); Jesse Kidwell, Chris Adamick (designers)
Consultants: Museum of the City of New York: Donald Albrecht (curator), Susan Gail Johnson (curatorial associate), Kassy Wilson (exhibition coordinator)
Fabrication: South Side Design & Building (primary fabricator), Apple Digital Graphics (floor and wall graphics, Full Point Graphics (CAD-cut vinyl graphics and case labels), Ken Allen Studios (object labels)
Photos: Bilyana Dimitrova