Coney Island Cyclops Sculpture Joins Traveling Art Exhibition

The Coney Island Cyclops. Photo: courtesy the Coney Island History Project.
The Coney Island Cyclops. Photo: courtesy the Coney Island History Project.

Coney Island’s famed five-foot-tall horned Cyclops head will be leaving the boardwalk to take its place in a two-year-long nationally touring art exhibition, “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland,” reports the New York Daily News. The show will feature 130 artifacts and artworks, including pieces by Diane Arbus, William Merritt Chase, and Reginald Marsh.

The papier-mâché sculpture was created in 1955 as a decoration for the new Spook-A-Rama ride, still a crowd favorite at Coney Island’s Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. It stood atop the ride for decades, until it was moved into storage in 1987.

Charles Denson, who heads the Coney Island History Project, rediscovered the statue in 2011 while conducting research for another Coney Island art exhibit. “We realized that the Cyclops head was an iconic and recurring image in dozens of modern artworks,” he explained in a speech honoring the piece. When he went hunting for the original, he discovered that not only had it survived, “it was in storage right behind the History Project.”

The Cyclops was then inducted into the History Project’s Hall of Fame, where it has become one of the most popular attractions. Despite its fragile materials, it even survived flooding from Hurricane Sandy. “We’re definitely going to miss it,” Denson told the Daily News.

The beloved folk art skull perfectly captures a bygone era of classic B-movies. “Spook-A-Rama opened in the 1950s at a time when monster movies and Cinerama were popular,” explained Denson in his speech. “It’s a one-of-a-kind work of art, a cultural artifact handmade from ordinary bandages and plaster of Paris.”

After a big goodbye party at the History Project on September 7, art movers will transport the Cyclops to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford—no easy task due to its unusual shape. “It has this big horn and these ears, and it all has to be protected,” Denson said. “It’s like moving the crown jewels.”


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