Image of Iceberg

Iceberg XXIV, 2008 © Sebastian Copeland

For centuries, what lies above the Arctic Circle has been a source of intrigue and fascination for those who live below its border. Stories from the ancient Greeks mixed with Norse mythology and reports from early voyages gave rise to lively and creative conceptions of ice-free waters and a fabled people who lived at the top of the world. Expeditions to the Arctic in search of resources and trade routes slowly replaced these legends with more accurate information. Yet even these narrative accounts were still filled with details of a foreign world that excited the imagination. Accompanying illustrations further enhanced the appeal of the polar North because they seemed to promise verisimilitude, giving shape to the incredible. Whether as woodcuts, engravings, lithographs, photographs, halftones, or digital prints, these images continue to captivate. They influence and inform our knowledge, bringing a distant region closer to those unfamiliar with its icy shores.

This exhibition, drawn almost exclusively from the rich collections of The New York Public Library, is a large, multipart survey of how the Arctic has been visually depicted, defined, and imagined over the past 500 years, and invites us to consider how this history relates to our current understanding of the Arctic. The presentation ranges from 16th-century explorers who attempted to capture the perceived strangeness of a remote region to contemporary artists whose work conveys the human impact on its changing climate and vulnerable landscape.

This exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Cronin, Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography, and assisted by Maggie Mustard, Assistant Curator of Photography, in The New York Public Library's Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.

Check back soon for more information.

Coming Soon: Exhibition Catalogue

A co-publication by The New York Public Library and Hatje Cantz, this richly illustrated catalogue with its groundbreaking scholarship is the first to survey 500 years of Arctic imagery. Collectively, the essays explore a trove of books, prints, photographs, maps, and artifacts depicting and representing the nationalities and cultures that have shaped our understanding of the region and the peoples for whom it is home.

Forthcoming March 2024.

Preview: The Awe of the Arctic on the First Floor

See historic items in the Wachenheim Gallery and Bartos Gallery on the first floor of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Illustration of arctic ice, through which a group of explorers is dragging a sledge and a single figure is standing at the top watching over the horizon
Sledging over Hummocky Ice, April, 1853
Samuel Gurney Cresswell (English, 1827–67)
Engraving showcasing a man in a fur, sitting over an open fire cooking food. Around him are various arctic animals.
De Noordsche Wereld de Vries, 1685
Simon de Vries (editor, Dutch, ca. 1624–1708)
Photo of a ship in the distance going through icy water, and a silhouette of a man standing a little closer to the camera.
Le Tegetthoff entouré de glaces près le Iles Barents, à la Nouvelle-Zemble, 1872
Wilhelm Joseph Burger (Austrian, 1844–1920)
Image of glacier
The front of the glacier, a near view, coming or forcing itself over the land..., 1869
William Bradford (American, 1823–92)
Cover of book titled "At the Pole with Cook and Peary", with the images of two arctic explorers' faces.
At the Pole with Cook and Peary: A pictorial record of the most important and sensational geographical discovery of recent times..., 1909
L.H. Nelson Company

Preview: The Awe of the Arctic on the Third Floor

See contemporary works by over 40 artists in the Rayner Special Collections Wing and Print Gallery on the third floor of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Man in winter coat leaning on a red igloo, in a snowy scenery

© Scarlett Hooft Graafland

Lemonade Igloo, 2007
Scarlett Hooft Graafland (Dutch, b. 1973)
Image of accordion-like photograph print

© Chris McCaw

Cirkut, 2021
Chris McCaw (American, b. 1971)
Image of a tent covered in snow, with the northern lights in the background

© Charles Xelot, Courtesy galerie Sit Down

Chum and Tankers, 2017
Charles Xelot (French, b. 1985)
Image of cabin in an snowy environment, with its roof covered in snow.

© Tiina ltkonen

Home 7, Isortoq, 2017
Tiina Itkonen (Finnish, b. 1968)
Print depicting the horizon of the sea, with what looks like a ship wreck in the forefront

© Saul Becker

Arctic Series # 215, 2011
Saul Becker (American, b. 1975)

More Exhibitions

  • Max Beerbohm: The Price of Celebrity

    October 20, 2023–January 28, 2024
    Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

    Celebrity became an international industry in the late nineteenth century, and the English artist, author, and dandy Max Beerbohm…