Michael C. McMillen / MATRIX 171

Wadsworth Atheneum

Jan. 31, 2024 - May. 3, 2015

600 Main Street
Hartford, Connecticut 6103
(860) 278-2670


For his MATRIX project, Los Angeles native Michael C. McMillen (American, born 1946) creates a Coney Island-inspired project, a contemporary companion piece to the special exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008.

The Coney Island theme resonates closely with McMillen. In the summer of 1957, the artist’s father took him to New York to visit his old Greenwich Village haunts. An eleven-year-old at the time, indelible images of that trip have stayed with the artist for the past half century, particularly taking the train out to Coney Island where he visited the crumbling Steeplechase Park. McMillen explains, “There, somewhere within the complex of worn rides and faded attractions, I recall visiting a walk-through display tunnel of life-size tableaux depicting famous murders and other social malfunctions. It was both strangely fascinating and familiar. Growing up in Santa Monica, the Ocean Park Pier held a powerful draw for me, made even more attractive because of my grandmother’s admonitions to ‘STAY AWAY!’ The carnival facade was a thin cover for the faded dreams and gross depravity that one would read about in the local tabloids. There was something about this unexpected encounter with the terrible side of human nature and the crudely sensational way it was depicted that was simultaneously riveting, repellent, and haunting. Years later as a young artist thinking about how to engage an audience, I recalled and recognized the power of the immersive environment.”

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