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Play Things


November 22nd, 2013 - March 16th, 2014

Program Locations:

Rayner Special Collections Wing

Physically and intellectually interactive, a significant number of prints and photographs are both objects and subjects of play. Playing cards, for example, were among the very first works produced in the fifteenth century with the newly invented technology of prints, and other sorts of games quickly followed. Photography developed along with the growth of increased leisure time in the nineteenth century and has long been associated with play, whether pursued as a recreational activity or applied to visual games or collectible mementos. While many of the works in the exhibition engage the viewer through physical interaction or moving parts, others involve a more cerebral sense of play, challenging and questioning assumptions about what the viewer is seeing. Drawing from a broad range of works in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs—including stereo views, a kite, paper dolls, and visual word games—the exhibition explores the long and varied tradition of how works on paper not only participated in but actively facilitated conditions of playfulness.


This exhibition has been made possible by the continuing generosity of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman.