Exhibit delves into life and legend of Houdini

Fri Oct 29, 2010 1:40pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Handcuffs, shackles, a torture chamber and straitjacket used by renowned escape artist Harry Houdini will be part of a major exhibit that delves into the life and legend of the world famous magician.

"Houdini: Art and Magic," which opens on Friday at The Jewish Museum, will feature a recreation of the Chinese Water Torture Cell, which Houdini used to enthrall huge audiences with his daring, death-defying escapes.

"The show is an interdisciplinary exhibition. We integrate historic posters, broadsides, photographs, film and Houdini's magic apparatus with contemporary pieces," said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, the curator of the exhibit at the Manhattan museum.

Harry Houdini, who was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest in 1874, immigrated with his family to rural Appleton, Wisconsin when he was a child. After a stint as a circus performer in the 1890s he become a magician and changed his name as a tribute to the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.

He went on to become the most famous escape artist of his day, captivating massive audiences by escaping during stage performances from the glass Chinese Water Torture Cell while suspended upside down and confined by a straightjacket.

"The water torture cell had a glass front so the audience could actually see Houdini being lowered down, by his ankles, into this apparatus. For an audience the sense of audacity but also confinement underwater in this tank was really terrifying," Rapaport explained.

In another famous feat a handcuffed Houdini freed himself from a padlocked crate that had been thrown into a river.

Photographs, Art Nouveau-era posters, as well as his private diaries, which have never been shown before, and silent films of his performances will be included in the exhibition that will run until next March when it will travel to San Francisco, and in 2012 to Madison, Wisconsin.   Continued...

<p>A 1903 photograph shows Houdini in chains, part of the exhibition "Houdini: Art and music". REUTERS/Library of Congress/Rare Books and Special Collections Division/McManus Young Division/Handout</p>