‘Apollo’s Muse’ photo exhibition celebrates 50th anniversary of the moon landing

The Met's "Apollo's Muse" exhibit includes Charles Le Morvan's "Systematic Photographic Map of the Moon, Increasing and Decreasing Phases 1899-1909." Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The Met’s exhibit showcases the moon, as captured from the very first photographs on through today.

The Met's "Apollo's Muse" exhibit includes Charles Le Morvan's "Systematic Photographic Map of the Moon, Increasing and Decreasing Phases 1899-1909."
The Met’s "Apollo’s Muse" exhibit includes Charles Le Morvan’s "Systematic Photographic Map of the Moon, Increasing and Decreasing Phases 1899-1909." Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

Shoot the moon. That’s what “Apollo’s Muse” — a photo-driven exhibition launching Wednesday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art marking the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing on July 20, 1969 — is all about.

Subtitled “The Moon in the Age of Photography,” the show, running through Sept. 22, features more than 170 photographs, including the iconic snap of Buzz Aldrin by fellow Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, which shows the lunar surface in a mirror-faced space helmet.

“The Apollo 11 moon landing was a major event in human history, one that has changed the way we think about our place in the cosmos,” Mia Fineman, exhibit curator, tells amNewYork. “Photography, in both a scientific and artistic way, was an important part of this whole landmark journey.” 

A vintage television plays CBS News Television's coverage of Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.
A vintage television plays CBS News Television’s coverage of Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Fineman was 3 when her parents plopped her down in front of their television set to witness “one giant leap for mankind.” They were among a half a billion people around the world who watched as images of American astronauts on the moon beamed 238,900 miles back to earth a half-century ago.

But centuries before that, Earth’s natural satellite had already captivated people’s curiosity and fascination. The Met exhibit “traces back that history,” explains Met director Max Hollein, who describes the moon as a “nearly universal source of fascination and inspiration.”

Oscar-winner and acknowledged space geek Tom Hanks echoes that sentiment in his introduction to the book accompanying “Apollo’s Muse.” “From the earliest days of human history, no matter where our kind was scattered, the moon was a mystery,” writes the “Apollo 13” star. “Was that a face looking down on us? Did the gods live there? Or a big rabbit? Or a divine woman? Maybe a race of cricket-men?” 

A person looks at Paper Moon Studio Portraits from the 1900s-1930s.
A person looks at Paper Moon Studio Portraits from the 1900s-1930s. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Photography has helped answer those questions. “As soon as photography was invented, the moon was a target and focus,” according to Fineman.

While photos make up the bulk of the show, there’s an array of drawings, paintings, film clips, astronomical instruments and NASA cameras. Across the show’s five galleries, there’s something for everyone.

Photography fans will savor two newly discovered lunar daguerreotypes from the 1840s, which, says Fineman, are believed to be the earliest photographs of the moon in existence. Works by 19th-century lunar photography pioneers Warren De La Rue, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd and John Adams Whipple are also on view.

Science aficionados will appreciate a book of lunar etchings by Galileo published in 1610 that helped give birth to selenography, the science of the moon’s surface. 

Georges Méliès preparatory drawings for the film "A Trip to the Moon."
Georges Méliès preparatory drawings for the film "A Trip to the Moon." Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Sci-fi geeks will be over-the-moon for lunar-centric cinematic excerpts which, beyond their kitschy qualities, offer reminders of the overlap between art and science. Perch on a bench and check out clips of Georges Méliès 1902 classic “A Trip to the Moon,” Fritz Lang’s 1929 “Woman in the Moon” and Irving Pichel’s 1950 “Destination Moon.”

A 1968 mini dress, made of paper and printed with NASA rocket ships on the front and back shows how space had blasted its way into the fashion of the times. Created by Harry Gordon, the mod frock is part of a series of disposable poster dresses that could be cut at the seams and hung on the wall.  

For an “eagle has landed” flashback, a vintage television console plays CBS News television coverage — actual footage and simulation. The look of excitement seen on the face of anchor Walter Cronkite is the real deal.  

“It’s a truly dramatic moment,” says Fineman. “But as a 3-year-old, I didn’t appreciate that things like this didn’t happen all the time.”

Fifty years later, Hanks wonders: “Who will attempt the next lunar landing with its so-very-slim margin for error? Who is going to go where no woman has gone before?”

Feeling moonstruck? Don’t snap out of it!

Consider: Just in time for the lunar landing 50th anniversary, Christie’s is auctioning space-exploration artifacts including the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Timeline Book used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to navigate the Eagle onto the moon’s surface. Moondust included (seriously). It’s expected to fetch $7-$9 million.

Here are three more options with down-to-earth prices.

One Giant Leap: The Apollo 11 Moon Landing, 50 Years On

Tony-winning playwright J.T. Rogers (“Oslo”) understands the value of teamwork. “In a moment of great political upheaval and divisiveness, remember what it meant when we worked and did something together.” That’s one theme of his new 45-minute drama about the space race drawn from transcripts, news reports and interviews that will be read at this event by stars like Lauren Ambrose, Jeff Daniels and Samuel L. Jackson. The idea for the play came to Rogers from a science writer at The New York Times, which presents this event that also includes chats with Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins and Peggy Whitson, the first woman commander of the International Space Station and others. (Town Hall, July 21, 7 p.m., $50 and up)

Apollo, a Party!

Space-themed music, drinks, treats, solar observations and stargazing with members of the Amateur Astronomers Association and more events are on tap at this evening family affair. (New York Hall of Science, Queens, July 20, 7-10 p.m.)

Moon Landing: 50th Anniversary Celebration

Space is the summer reading theme at the New York Public Library. “The moon landing was a remarkable moment in U.S. History, one that showcased to a generation that literally anything is possible,” NYPL interim chief library manager, Caryl Matute tells amNewYork. “The sky’s the limit.” Readings and events run through the summer. Check NYPL.org.

Joe Dziemianowicz