CULTURE

Bill Cunningham: Facades


“William J. Cunningham—is that Bill Cunningham?” the New-York Historical Society’s Valerie Paley, who curated a new exhibition titled Facades of the photographer’s early work, recalls a member of her team wondering aloud after stumbling upon a carefully labeled set of 88 images in their archives. Yes, they had discovered photographs from that Bill Cunningham which he had donated to the society almost 40 years ago—before the New York Times gig, the eponymous documentary, and his name becoming synonymous with street style. Shot between 1968 and 1976, the Facades collection differs from the candid, voyeuristic images that Cunningham is best known for today in style—models such as his muse Editta Sherman pose outside of historic New York City landmarks wearing 18th-, 19th-, and 20th- century costumes. Both are a love letter to the city of New York. In preparation for this project, Cunningham collected over 500 vintage costumes and scouted over 1,800 locations on his bicycle, and the photographer noted historical details about how women would have traditionally worn the clothing on the back of each image “He saw a time evaporating,” Paley said, noting the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963, and the similar fate that faced Grand Central Station. Strikingly beautiful and anthropologically rich, the images say as much about fashion as they do the cultural context surrounding it—a theme familiar even to Cunningham’s newest fans. “Bill Cunningham: Facades” is on view March 14 through June 15 at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, 170 Central Park West.

1

General Motors Building, ca. 1968-1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

2

Associated Press Building at Rockefeller Center (built ca. 1939), ca. 1968-1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

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Gothic bridge in Central Park (designed 1860), ca. 1968-1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

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Guggenheim Museum (built 1959), ca. 1968-1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

5

Club 21 (founded ca. 1920s; costume ca. 1940), ca. 1968- 1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

6

Editta Sherman on the Train to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, ca. 1972. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

7

Bill Cunningham Photographing Three Models at New York County Court House, by an unknown artist, ca.1968-76. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

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Bowery Savings Bank (built ca. 1920), ca. 1968-1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

9

Federal Hall (built ca. 1842, costume ca. 1910), ca. 1968-1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

10

Grand Central Terminal (built ca. 1903-1913), ca. 1968-1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

11

Paris Theater (built 1947), ca. 1968-1976. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

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St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard (built ca. 1766-96), ca. 1968-76. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.