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, multi-part 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.


Contemporary Artists on View

We are delighted to be exhibiting work by the following contemporary artists in The Awe of the Arctic: A Visual History: Evgenia Arbugaeva, Terry Adkins, Ohito Ashoona, Ragnar Axelsson, Olaf Otto Becker, Saul Becker, Minik Bidstrup, Siân Bowen, Julian Charrière, Sebastian Copeland, Ellie Ga, Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Julie Edel Hardenberg, Tiina Itkonen, Ciril Jazbec, Nadav Kander, Marte Lill Somby, Mark Mahaney, Chris McCaw, Marcelo Moscheta, Vincent Munier, Susanne Neunhoeffer, Outi Pieski, Jukke Rosing, Pauojoungie Saggiak, Kakulu Saggiaktok, Gregor Sailer, Christina Seely, Carleen Sheehan, Santiago Sierra, Jacob Aue Sobol, Emma Stibbon, Inuuteq Storch, Mette Tronvoll, Witho Worms, Charles Xelot, Shingo Yoshida, and Kiliii Yüyan.

The Awe of the Arctic: Audio Guide

Sir Allen William Young (British, 1830–1915) “The Countries Round the North Pole,” from The Two Voyages of the ‘Pandora’ in 1875 and 1876.

Discover highlights of the exhibition with our free audio guide for The Awe of the Arctic, accessible onsite or from anywhere on your mobile device.

Listen to the audio guide on Bloomberg Connects, the free arts and culture app. Bloomberg Connects is a third-party mobile app not owned or operated by NYPL. See privacy notice below.

 Listen online.

Spotlight on ‘Voyage d’une femme au Spitzberg’ by Léonie d’Aunet

Curator Elizabeth Cronin talks about ‘Voyage d’une femme au Spitzberg’ by Léonie d’Aunet.

Installation views

The Awe of the Arctic: A Visual History is open through July 13, 2024 in the Wachenheim Gallery, Ispahani-Bartos Gallery, Print Gallery, and Rayner Special Collections Wing in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Exhibition design by Pure+Applied.

Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the Wachenheim Gallery corridor
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the Wachenheim Gallery corridor
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing one wall of the Wachenheim Gallery
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the Bartos gallery corridor
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing the back half of Bartos gallery
Photograph of exhibition showing entryway and both sides of the Rayner Wing corridor
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the Rayner Wing corridor
Photograph of exhibition showing entryway and both sides of the Print Gallery corridor
Photograph with fisheye view of exhibition showing both sides of the Print Gallery corridor

Highlights: The Awe of the Arctic on the First Floor

See historic items in the Ispahani-Bartos Gallery and Wachenheim 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

Highlights: 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)

Exhibition Catalogue

Book cover depicting an arctic environment with a group of men pull up a sledge. The title of the book "The Awe of the Arctic: A Visual History" can be read.

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.

Buy your copy of The Awe of the Arctic at the Library Shop

Price: $70.00, Member Price: $63.00
Hardcover, 9.75 x 11.5 in. | 258 pgs | 170 color
ISBN 9783775748070

The Arctic in the Library Shop

Groups of people in a large space with dark wooden shelves filled with books, tote bags, and accessories.

Want to bring the Arctic home with you? Purchase stationery, books, and more in the Library Shop! Shop online.

Recommended Reading: Exploring the Arctic at NYPL

Selection of titles from the 'Awe of the Arctic' reading list displayed on a teal background.

This reading list includes first-hand accounts, histories of expeditions to the Arctic, biographies of both its famous explorers and lesser-known heroes, classic literature, recent novels, children’s books, and contemporary artists' monographs. Literature on the Arctic is as extensive as it is fascinating and this selected list is only the tip of the iceberg. Explore the list!

You can check out these books using your NYPL library card. Don't have one? Get one today.

Plus! Check out additional recommendations in a special book display at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), just across the street at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, starting March 15.

More Programs & Events in NYC

Colorful illustration of icebergs peaking through the Arctic sea, as ships sail through them.

The Awe of the Arctic: A Visual History is one of many climate- and environment-themed exhibitions and programs taking place in New York City in 2024.

Check out the COAL + ICE Climate Action Partner page to find more programs and events.


Large Print Labels

Large Print Logo

Access the exhibition's large print labels:

Physical copies can be found on site at the information desk in Astor Hall and the information desk in the McGraw Rotunda.

Curatorial Acknowledgments

Every exhibition takes a village and this one especially. I offer my thanks to Brent Reidy, Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries. In Exhibitions I would like to thank Declan Kiely, Susan Rabbiner, Becky Laughner, Tereza Chanaki, Amanda Raquel Dorval, Carl Auge, Jake Hamill, Ryan Douglass, Kelsey Glaser, Christopher Alzapiedi, and Clayton Skidmore; in Permissions and Metadata, Kiowa Hammons, Greg Cram, Zoe Waldron, and Dina Selfridge; in Digital Imaging Services, Rebecca Wack, Steven Crossot, Doran Walot, Pete Riesett, Jenny Jordan, Marietta Davis, Rebecca Baldwin, Emily Hoffman, and Jeanie Pai; in the Registrar’s Office, Deborah Straussman, Caryn Gedell, and Martin Branch-Shaw; in Conservation and Collections Care, Emily Müller, Hanako Murata, Ursula Mitra, Addison Yu, Anna Dyczewska, and Mary Oey; in the Office of Development, Allie Werner, Christopher Gerber, Yvonne Hoeft, Marisa Clemente, and Taylor Dietz; in the Office of Budget and Planning, Margaret Young; in Programming, Fay Rosenfeld, Aidan Flax-Clark, Miranda Konar, Grace Wilson, Susanna Kim, and Margie Cook; in Communications, Beth Hays, Katharina Seifert, Julia Joseph, Charles Arrowsmith, Laurie Beckoff, Sara Beth Joren, and Tara Fedoriw-Morris; in the Library Shop, Krista Rauth, Elana Sinsabaugh, and Elizabeth Nahum-Albright; and in Acquisitions, Celeste Keller-Griffin and Enito Mock; in Prints and Photographs, Schomburg, Dalila Scruggs; in the Wallach Division, Deirdre Donohue, Maggie Mustard, Madeleine Viljoen, Margaret Glover, Alvaro Lazo, Rebecca Szantyr, David Lowe, Zulay Chang, Chantal Lee, Emily Walz, Jessica Cline, and Jay Vissers; in Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books, Julie Golia, Michael Inman, Kyle Triplett, John Cordovez, and Tal Nadan.

Thank you also to Paul Carlos, Urshula Barbour, Filza Khan, and Giedre Gudziute Kavalyauskas.

–Elizabeth Cronin, Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography

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