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Renowned for its collection of lamps by Tiffany Studios, the New York Historical Society on Central Park West will renovate the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture and dedicate the space to displaying the 100 lamps it owns.

Designed by architect Eva Jiřičná, the 3,000-square-foot, two-story space is scheduled to open in early 2017, and will feature the Tiffany lamps lit in a darkened gallery, creating a dramatic, glowing effect for visitors.

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The three-year, $70 million remodeling of the New-York Historical Society is not just a cosmetic affair. That is clear the moment you approach the main entrance’s widened steps on Central Park West and see a bronze, life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln standing in casual welcome.

Lincoln is on the steps, among us, prepared for photo ops that will most likely disrupt pedestrian traffic during Friday’s reopening of the renovated institution. And around the corner, on 77th Street, Frederick Douglass poses in bronze near the society’s other major entrance.

But why Lincoln and Douglass? Neither had anything to do with the society’s founding in 1804. Neither was born in New York. And while Lincoln visited and Douglass lived here for a time, they appear now for a particular purpose. They are making a statement about the society’s vision. They are key figures in the abolition of slavery in the United States, representing both the democratic ideal and the struggles required to realize it.

And these are also central themes in a conceptual reconfiguration of the society that began in 2004, when Louise Mirrer became its president. In recent exhibitions, current displays and a high-tech introductory film being shown in the new state-of-the-art auditorium, slavery has been placed close to the narrative center of American history.

So have the tensions between the ideals and failings of American democracy. The failings are chronicled and the ideals championed with great energy. Both condemnations and celebrations are partly populist, partly the result of an increased attention to New York’s ethnically diverse past, partly a desire to expand the audience, and partly an intellectual enterprise. Some of the building’s extensive renovations — which include a reconfiguring of display space, a new children’s museum, an expansive entrance gallery and a new restaurant — are meant to resonate with those themes.

The society actually seems to have a new center of gravity. And you can feel the shifts underfoot as you enter. On occasion the result is an institutional pratfall (as in some aspects of the opening gallery); other times (as in many sections of a major new exhibition on the American, French and Haitian Revolutions) they lead to powerful perspectives.

The change is also reflected in the self-consciously imposing building, constructed between 1903 and 1908, designed by York & Sawyer. The modifications by Platt Byard Dovell White Architects emphasize not monumental elevation but democratic accessibility, including a wider staircase and expanded entrance that lead into a new opening gallery, visible through transparent walls from Central Park West.

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