Had one taken a stroll through Soho at the time, you would have been sure to spot somebody on their phone late one evening, from the back, in front of a restaurant. Such were the times, not that you would have guessed from the aura around the area, and was because now, as you revisit it today, think of Cary Grant in Soho. The first has already been captured in David Lean’s classic movie. Some 20 years later, as the arrival of Instagram showcased the neighborhood’s many charms, you imagined you would see a mob scene of selfie-takers, with cupped hands, desperate to capture it all on their screens. But today, the scene seemed small. More like a very, very nice, very warm, quiet piece of peace.
That’s the proposition up for debate in a new exhibit, Last Night in Soho, that opens at the NYU Freud Archives later this month. Artifacts from the period between the turn of the century and the 1960s, including what appears to be a coffee-table book from the 1930s, a wide-screen Polaroid from 1970, and fragments of magazines, scrapbooks, notebooks, lists, and addresses, paint a picture of this moment. Organized by Shana Rosenwald, the museum’s associate curator of exhibitions, and book illustrator Mariann Luecke, the show presents the photographs in an elegant manner, rich with the sensory and visual impact of the time, and with the details of how they were taken and what they constituted.
It opens with a swatch of vintage carpet, surrounded by photographs of those posing in that supposed momentary reprieve from the frantic world. “Last Night in Soho” — the title reflects both the collective noun for that particular date of the coming of spring and the now-enduring shorthand for the era. You might see something eerie about it — something ugly, but beautiful.
One interesting find was a typewritten list of activities for each day of the week. June 6, 1926, was that week’s schedule. On Wednesday, June 12, 1928, it listed the animals — small dogs, foxes and mink, each with a tick on its cage. A year later, on Thursday, June 13, the same list listed public shelters for when the rain came. Among the entries: “Light rain, midnight — nonstop activity, opening the side door of every café.” (It might appear to be strange, but no one complained then, so maybe it worked.) A clue to the rhythm of the time: Some days were spent on the train for business trips.
Missed the exhibition? It’s open to the public, Sunday through Thursday and Friday through Saturday. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online.
Photo by Bagenal, Francesco
By ADAM ASHBOTT