Presto! A Museum Becomes a House of Illusion

0
4

I’m no dentist, yet one recent afternoon, I still found myself peering intently into Greg Dubin’s wide-open mouth.

I was on an unusual search: for sewing needles. Mr. Dubin had just ingested 20 while I watched, and he was trying to convince me and a nearby teenager that he hadn’t hidden them around his tongue. After our fruitless examination, he took a long thread from his small tool kit.

“The thread is more dangerous than the needles,” Mr. Dubin said, “because it can get all tangled up.” After taking a sip of water, he shredded the thread, smoothly restored it to a single strand with deft sleight of hand, and calmly swallowed it. A moment later, he pulled the thread, with all 20 needles attached, slowly and dramatically from his throat.

It was my turn to gape.

Mr. Dubin, a.k.a. the Great Dubini, a full-time magician who gave me this demonstration at the New-York Historical Society, often compares his art to jazz: “You have your standards, and everyone does their take on them.” This was his variation on a trick Harry Houdini made famous, and Mr. Dubin will perform it and others as he strolls through the museum Friday evening during Capturing the Magic Weekend.

This celebration culminates the historical society’s Summer of Magic, a program series devoted to illusion. But while the weekend is the season’s final three-day event, related family activities and the exhibition “Summer of Magic: Treasures From the David Copperfield Collection” will continue through mid-September. And if you miss Mr. Dubin’s act, you can still see needle swallowing on Sept. 15 and 16, when the actor Duffy Hudson will portray Houdini.

While magic may seem like an odd subject for a museum dedicated to facts, the society has embraced it not only as a lighthearted summer theme but also as part of its mission.

“Magic as a form of entertainment has deep roots in the city, and some of the earliest magic supply stores began here,” said Cristian Petru Panaite, the museum’s assistant curator of exhibitions, who has filled the “Summer of Magic” show with artifacts from the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, the illusionist Mr. Copperfield’s Las Vegas collection. Throughout the exhibition’s run, families visiting the society’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum can borrow a special edition of its history detectives briefcase, which contains a couple of magic tricks to learn and clues for a scavenger hunt through the show. Here you can see the straitjacket and the giant milk can from which Houdini escaped, as well as the rifle that in 1918 killed the illusionist William Robinson, a.k.a. Chung Ling Soo. (For an air of exoticism, he pretended to be Chinese.) Robinson died as a result of a malfunction during his catch-the-bullet act.

An illusion also goes terribly wrong in Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, “The Prestige,” which the society will show Friday night. It stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as 19th-century magicians whose friendship devolves into raging rivalry. Its plot underscores another Summer of Magic theme, which Mr. Panaite described as “magicians as inventors, pushing technological boundaries.”

Visitors can see the creative evidence this weekend from Joel Schlemowitz, a filmmaker who teaches at the New School, and Dawn Elliott, a historical interpreter. They will demonstrate magic lanterns, early precursors of movie cameras. First developed in the 17th century, these devices each contained an illumination source and an opening across which the operator could move glass slides that were often painted with vivid images. Favored by magic acts and theaters, which used them to make ghosts and demons seem to appear, these projectors evolved into popular Victorian-era entertainment for adults and playthings for children. Some slides were circular, with scenes painted like numbers on a clock’s face; others had cranks attached.

Rather than showing static images, Mr. Schlemowitz explained, the magic lantern “was full of all these illusions, where you would have dissolves from one image to another, or movement created through multiple panes of glass moved independently, or gear-work motion that would produce some sort of revolving image.” Mr. Schlemowitz and Ms. Elliott will illustrate these effects Friday evening in The Magic Lantern: The Grandfather of Cinema.

On Saturday and Sunday, they will also give magic lantern shows for young audiences, where they will offer noisemakers to create sound effects and 19th-century toy lanterns to explore. Ms. Elliott said she often encouraged children to weave entire stories around the radiant slides. “It is all about imagining,” she added.

As is most illusion. Before Mr. Dubin left, he took out three quarters and asked me to hold two tightly. The remaining coin soon vanished from his moving hands. When I opened my clenched fist, I was astonished to see all three in my palm. A trick? Sure, but I’d still like to think it was magic.

Original Article

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here