2002-07-13 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

By Susan Hartenstein
Rockaway Artists Alliance

Modern art has swung into Swingline. MoMA QNS opened its doors to the public on June 29 and 30. The Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street in Manhattan has closed for renovations until 2005 and relocated to the former Swingline staple factory in Long Island City on 33rd Street at Queens Boulevard. The reimagined building announces itself with a bright blue stucco exterior. As designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture and Scott Newman of Cooper, Robertson and Partners, the visitor is led by a series of ramps and moveable white partitions through various installations and exhibitions. The inaugural presentations include temporary exhibitions of art from an international roster of public and private collections (as befits a museum in this multi-cultural borough) and works from MoMA’s permanent collection. The moveable partitions allow for a flexible layout to the 25,000 square feet of gallery space. If one were to encapsulate these inaugural presentations, one would say " 2/3 P.S. 1, 1/3 MoMA staples," (no pun intended).

It is clear, from the beginning, the influence of the Modern’s Queens sister museum, P.S. 1. One is greeted by film selections from commissioned and MoMA archive works, projected on various areas of the lobby. These works range from "Lumiere: New York Views" (1896) to "MoMA on Wheels" (2002). "AUTObodies: speed, sport, transport" (through September 16) is an exhibit of sexy, sleek and fun automobiles from the past, to make your mouth water and your memory soar. Examples: a Jaguar E-type Roadster (1953), a Volkswagen "Beetle" (1959). The five multi-media installations of "Tempo" (through September 19) explore concepts and perceptions of time. Contemporary artists from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe examine time in its phenomenological, empirical, political and fictional aspects, as perceived in different cultures. The "Time Collapsed" section presents the visitor with installations that include fans, clocks, hammers, a long line of ticking metronomes (for example, Martin Creed’s "Work No. 189. thirty-nine metronomes beating time one at every speed," noisily confronting the visitor with systematic and random time). A work of particular interest in the "trans-histories" section of "Tempo" is Inigo Manglano-Ovalle’s "Nocturne (white poppies)." One enters an all-black boxy space for the mesmerizing, encompassing experience of a night-vision-enhanced real-time video projection of artificial opium poppies with live audio.

I first became familiar with the work of photographer and experimental filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt at P.S. 1. Burckhardt’s black and white images are poetic in their unsentimentalized composition, choice of subject and use of light and shadow. "A Walk Through Astoria and Other Places in Queens: Photographs by Rudy Burckhardt" (through November 4) is one of the high points of these exhibitions. It displays works from two private unpublished albums. Adding an extra dimension to the exhibit, accompanying the photographs are sonnets by Edwin Denby, which were inspired by the photos.

To celebrate MoMA’s move to Queens, Francis Alys staged a procession in which representations of works from the museum’s collection were carried, statuary-like, by participants from MoMA to MoMA QNS. "Project 76: Francis Alys (through September 16) is a video and drawings of this procession. Alys, who lives and works in Mexico City, created an intriguing piece of living art. The procession is staged like a saint’s day celebration, reminding one of the spiritual, almost religious connotations of these iconic works of art.

Finally, to remind us of what museum in which we find ourselves, "To Be Looked At: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection." A rotating exhibition, this includes those bricks of early modern art such as Van Gogh’s "Starry Night" and Picasso’s "Les Demoiselles d’Avignon" and noted works from MoMA’s collection of mid-century and contemporary works such as Warhol’s soup cans.

Many Manhattanites blanch at the thought of leaving their borough to see art. They assume that art, good art, doesn’t exist outside their borough. And even if it occasionally does, they believe a machete-wielding trek through the Amazon would be less stressful and certainly more prestigious. This image persists even outside the long, skinny borough, despite the fact that Queens has become a haven for artists, art institutions and galleries. The fact that the New York Times entitled the directions to MoMA QNS "A Pilgrimage," even though probably with tongue in cheek, says something. The temporary relocation of MoMA should do much to change this. Now, if only transportation to Rockaway could become easier, perhaps those "pilgrimming" will "trek" or ferry a bit longer to our talented neck of the Queens woods.

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