‘Shaping a Celluloid World’ Is First NYC Exhibition to Showcase Perlov Celluloid Collection

June 10, 2014
Celluloid hairpins are part of the exhibition "Shaping a Celluloid World" at the Palitz Gallery at Lubin House in New York City.

Celluloid hairpins are part of the exhibition “Shaping a Celluloid World” at the Palitz Gallery at Lubin House in New York City.

The Palitz Gallery exhibition “Shaping a Celluloid World” has opened for viewing and is the first time a significant portion of the celluloid collection of Dadie and Norman Perlov will be on display in New York City. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., and runs through July 2. It is free and open to the public.

“Shaping a Celluloid World” contains over 100 objects, which represent just a portion of the collection the Perlovs donated to Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center. A wealth of materials that document the history of celluloid are represented in this exhibition, including jewelry, advertising and marketing brochures, postcards, figurines, decorative pins and buttons. Several rare items in the exhibition include a 15-piece dresser set, a set of Hyatt Billiard Balls and the last cocaine spoon in the Perlov collection, which was donated to the University.

Celluloid served as a less expensive material to bring mass-produced goods to an emerging middle class at the turn of the 20th century. It was also a unique material that could produce new goods or offer advantages over existing materials, including ivory, wood, metal and rubber. For some products, celluloid proved to be more useful than any material in existence. Celluloid piano keys, for example, were, in many ways, superior to ivory keys.

"Shaping a Celluloid World" contains over 100 objects.

“Shaping a Celluloid World” contains over 100 objects.

“‘Shaping a Celluloid World’ demonstrates how celluloid could be imitative or original, a substitute or a novel material, and how cultural ideas shaped a new technology,” explains the exhibition’s guest curator, Kellen Backer. “I wanted to show off the range of shapes and colors celluloid was made into. The exhibition showcases how people shaped celluloid as celluloid in turn shaped the world.”

“It is thrilling to have so many of the items we donated to the Special Collections Research Center in one exhibition,” says Dadie Perlov. “It was the real interest shown by everyone involved and the understanding that these objects could and would be used as teaching tools by departments as disparate as technology, design, political history, art, fashion—and even be exhibited, as they are doing at the Palitz Gallery.”

Today, celluloid is associated with film, and it played an important role in photography and cinema. Celluloid has also lived on in other uses. Guitar picks and ping-pong balls are still made of celluloid today. Throughout its history, celluloid has shown how plastics can be original or imitative, cheap or luxurious, and can be used to create new products or improve on existing ones.

“Celluloid played a large part in the growth and development of the plastics industry,” says Dadie Perlov. “Perhaps most of all, celluloid started an evolution of the American economy and the class structures that would operate within it.”

Contact 212-826-0320 or lubin@syr.edu for more information.