British Pathé, a film company that created newsreels from the turn of the 19th century until the late 1970s, recently made its entire archive of more than 80,000 videos available online. In that treasure trove of historic films, we found one that had special resonance for us: this 1968 travelogue of New York City and New York State takes viewers inside the Guggenheim Museum, and offers a rare, close-up glimpse of the exhibitions in place at the time.
After a jaunt around the city, which we see through a fish-eye lens, we’re taken to up to Frank Lloyd Wright’s building (at 1 minute, 38 seconds), and the British narrator intones, “The Guggenheim is round, and inside, people actually walk up to the top!” The camera leads us into the rotunda, where a monumental, curvilinear sculpture by American artist Paul Feeley dominates the space; the work was on view as part of Paul Feeley (1910-1966): A Memorial Exhibition, presented at the museum between April 11 and May 26, 1968. As the camera moves up the ramps, we see paintings by Kandinsky (on the left) and Delaunay (right), which were part of another memorial exhibition, Acquisitions of the 1930s and 1940s: A Selection of Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings in Tribute to Baroness Hilla von Rebay, 1890-1967.
In addition to this opportunity to linger in the Guggenheim of the late ’60s, the film offers plenty of period-specific touchstones that will delight any Mad Men fan, from a Pan Am stewardess’s sky-blue hat to iconic views of modernist landmarks such as the United Nations headquarters and the Ford Foundation Building. Sadly, other features of the time are far from charming, such as the thoughtless touting of a “real live Indian chief” as a tourist attraction. Created as a light enticement for vacationers, this short film now stands as a window into the decade’s diversions, preoccupations, and social mores.