‘Amsterdam/New Amsterdam’

Exhibition Design

Exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York commemorating Henry Hudson's discovery of Manhattan.

Four hundred years ago, the Englishman Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch East India Company, discovered what we now know as New York Harbor, Manhattan Island and the Hudson River. Designed by Pentagram, the exhibition Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson at the Museum of the City of New York examines Hudson’s historic journey and the cultural link between Amsterdam and New York that are an integral part of the city today.

The exhibition design uses large, modern curvilinear forms inspired by Hudson’s ship de Halve Maen (the Half Moon) to create a compelling context for interpreting this rich history. Amsterdam/New Amsterdam is installed in the Museum’s new flagship gallery, located off its recently renovated rotunda. During their exhibition research, the design team discovered that the 2,400 square foot gallery has roughly the same proportions as Hudson’s ship the Half Moon, and the ship could have fit in the space. This coincidence helped inspire the exhibition design, which reinterprets the ship in a structure made of MDF panels that suggest the form of the wooden vessel, with large white sails hung above. The design allows visitors to easily imagine what it was like to cross the Atlantic in the relatively small (85-foot-long) ship. The abstracted, contemporary form of the curved walls creates a modern environment that connects the past to the present.

The exhibition content provides a history of Hudson’s voyages—he found New York on his third—and compares the Amsterdam of the 17th century with the New Amsterdam that took root on what the Lenape Indians called Mannahatta. The exhibition is being presented by the museum in collaboration with the New Netherland Project and the National Maritime Museum Amsterdam and includes many rare artifacts from the Netherlands and local museums, including a model of the Half Moon and a Dutch cannon found during construction of the World Trade Center in 1967. Other displays look at the role of the Dutch in the Age of Exploration, the importance of commerce and enterprise in the creation of the colony of New Netherland and the Dutch influence on the pragmatic, cosmopolitan spirit of opportunity, tolerance and diversity that became an intrinsic part of the character of New York.

Amsterdam/New Amsterdam is part of the NY400 Celebrations sponsored by the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in New York to commemorate the anniversary of Hudson’s voyage. Pentagram also designed the museum’s concurrent exhibition Mannahatta/Manhattan, which considers what Manhattan Island was like when Hudson first arrived in 1609.

New York
Michael Gericke
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