Show Features Look at Houdini and his Magic

Published: November 1st 2010
in Culture » Stage

Harry Houdini

A new exhibit on Harry Houdini titled “Houdini: Art and Magic” opened last Friday at the Jewish Museum in New York.


The exhibit features handcuffs, shackles, a torture chamber, a straightjacket, and a life-size model of the Chinese Water Torture Cell that Houdini miraculously escaped from, captivating audiences everywhere and earning a reputation for defying death.


The front of the Water Torture Cell is glass and audiences would watch in distress as Houdini was lowered by his ankles into the tank. 


The show includes photos, posters, never before seen private diaries and silent films of Houdini performing.


However, none of Houdini’s secrets will be revealed. The show does not delve into how the influential and pioneering escape artist was able to accomplish his amazing feats. "The exhibition is not a how-to show. There is a tradition in the magic field that performance secrets aren't revealed and we are respecting that," curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport told Reuters.


"The show is an interdisciplinary exhibition. We integrate historic posters, broadsides, photographs, film and Houdini's magic apparatus with contemporary pieces," she added.


Harry Houdini, born Erik Weisz in Hungary in 1874, is considered the most famous magician and escapist in history. He was known for his ability to break out of seemingly insurmountable situations. Known as the “Handcuff King,” Houdini first thrilled audiences by escaping from handcuffs provided by audience members. He later stunned crowds of the day by escaping from a straightjacket suspended upside down high above the ground. During his career, he escaped from jail cells, locked crates thrown into lakes and canvas mailbags, among others.


However, he is most known for his on stage tricks, including the Water Torture Cell.


Rapaport said that Houdini was not only a source of inspiration to generations of magicians who came after him but also to the general public of his time.


"For the thousands of spectators who would watch his escapes that performance was probably symbolic because liberation from political, racial or religious oppression was a true aspiration to the 19th century immigrant community who traveled to America in those years.”


“Houdini: Art and Magic” runs at the Jewish Museum until March when it moves to San Francisco and then Madison, Wisconsin.

Related articles: (jewish museum, new york, harry houdini)

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