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. Needless 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.