Biography

 

Cultural historian, author and exhibition originator, Allon Schoener has received international acclaim for his books and exhibitions. Of his THE ITALIAN AMERICANS, published by Macmillan in the United States and Rizzoli in Italy, John Gross wrote in the International Herald Tribune, "The pictures, inevitably predominate. Indeed, it is hard to see how anything short of a literary masterpiece could compare in impact with the succession of images that confront the reader." Reviewing the exhibition based on that book, Gay Talese said in The New York Times, "While the 200-picture exhibition draws its luster from the famous faces of some of the immigrants' offspring it suggests its strength through the portraits of the unheralded men and women who were Italy's 'boat people,' the risk takers who endured the hardships, the insults and the reversals understood by all desperate travelers from foreign countries."

In 1969 his HARLEM ON MY MIND: CULTURAL CAPITAL OF BLACK AMERICA at The Metropolitan Museum of Art transformed museums in the United States and around the world. It was the first time that the culture of a minority group had been dignified with a major exhibition in one of the world's leading art museums. Need-less to say, the exhibition was controversial. Today, it is considered a ground-breaking landmark. Of the book (twice reprinted) that served as a catalogue of the exhibition, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chair of the Afro-American Studies Program at Harvard University, said, "One of the richest and most comprehensive records of the history of the African-American in the twentieth century."

Always an innovator, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Schoener created the first regularly broadcast television program produced by an American art museum. His 1966 "Lower East Side: Portal to American Life" exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York initiated the "blockbuster" era. For weeks, people were lined up from the museum door on Fifth Avenue along 92nd Street to Madison Avenue. Utilizing huge phtoto blow ups, films and sound, the exhibition captivated New York audiences with its portrayal of immigrant life in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. At the time, The Jewish Museum was New York's leading avant-garde art museum. The exhibition drew praise from the grandparents, parents and children who saw their immigrant lives portrayed on the walls of the former Warburg family mansion on Fifth Avenue. Artists and intellectuals embraced its originality, its message and its modes of presentation.

In April and May 2004, to celebrate Genoa's role as cultural capital of Europe, Schoener's ITALIAN AMERICANS exhibition was presented in the Palazzo San Giorgio. Reviewing it in Corriere Mercantile, Eliana Quattrini said, "In selecting photographs, Schoener followed two equally important criteria - their documentary value and their artistic quality." Speaking at the opening of that exhibition, he contrasted the period of Italian immigration to America one hundred years ago with today. He said, "We live in a new era of global migration. The report of the United Nations on immigration in the year 2000 stated that there are 150,000,000 immigrants internationally who do not live in their country of origin. This figure corresponds to 2.5% of the world's total population. We know that in the course of history that people have moved from one place to another. The principal regions of the world are founded on a paradigm that includes expulsion, escape, migration and new settle-ment. Today, the population of all continents is influenced by this dynamic; the world has become a more cosmopolitan place while people relocate for political, economic and social-cultural reasons."

His most recent book, NEW YORK: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE, summarizes his career by interpreting the city's layers of ethnicity - African, African American, Asian. British, Caribbean, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Latino and Pacific Islanders among the nearly 200 nationalities that comprise New York today.