“The American Style: Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis,” which runs at the Museum of the City of New York through October, is as lovely a museum exhibition as you’re going to see. It is one unfussy room of objects, photographs, and furniture pieces that pay homage to Colonial style and its reappearance in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first three of the twentieth. Although the chief curators, Donald Albrecht (who is also MCNY’s curator of architecture) and Thomas Mellins, clearly revere their subject matter, the show does not succumb to a rhapsodic tone. It is about style and does not pretend to anything greater than that.

“The American Style” does make the claim that the vocabulary of the Colonial style remains with us to this day, not only as kitsch but also as a lexicon of traditional Americana. That point—it is the...


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