At The Armory Show 2013, Andrew Edlin Gallery exhibited a solo installation of Tom Duncan’s work Dedicated to Coney Island, a giant three-dimensional scene and vivid recreation of the amusement park. This recreation of the New York City landmark is based on Tom Duncan’s memories of growing up near Coney Island. The myriad details of the work show, among other things, the beach crowded with bathers, various amusement rides, a balloon, trains… By pushing buttons, the viewer can activate different moving parts of the work such as the Wonder Wheel and the trains. In this video, Andrew Edlin introduces us to the fantastical world of Tom Duncan, who was strongly influenced by his childhood in World War II Scotland and postwar New York.
Tom Duncan was born in 1939 in Shotts, Scotland. He emigrated to America in 1947. He studied at the Art Students League of New York and the National Academy of Design School of Fine Art.
Tom Duncan: Dedicated to Coney Island / Andrew Edlin Gallery at The Armory Show 2013. Introduction by Andrew Edlin, March 6, 2013.
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At 73, Tom Duncan continues to create art based on his childhood memories. His process involves a repeated and painful return to his family’s home in war-torn Scotland where he was born a few months before the outbreak of World War Two. Duncan grew up in an unpredictable world of bomb shelters, blackout curtains, rations, family strife, and a nearby German prisoner of war camp. His oeuvre extends far beyond wartime Scotland, to include his emigration to America in 1947. For Duncan, remembrance is not simply recollection or nostalgia, but more an invitation to conjure up the past-people, places, and events-the result of which amounts to nothing less than their virtual reincarnation.
Duncan’s signature constellation of visual and thematic concerns are fully realized in several outstanding masterworks, of which the most notable to date is Dedicated to Coney Island. Having recently been on extended loan to Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum, this giant three-dimensional scene is a vivid, fantastical recreation of the fabled New York City landmark, complete with moving parts. Conceived from the eyes of a child but with the mastery of an adult artist, Coney Island features real and imagined attractions. Beloved rides are set in motion such as the Wonder Wheel as well angels, devils, colorful bathers, and the elevated subway behind.
At a time when a kind of cultural amnesia seems to be the order of the day, in which young people lack real experience with war, and in which the diverse richness of places like Coney Island are being replaced by the corporate aesthetic of Disney, Duncan’s work functions as an important record of the way the world once was.