Category: Archive

The culture of Queens

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The historical St. Remy in Provence couldn’t be further removed from the concrete, glass and steel of today’s Long Island City. However, Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece, painted there one night in 1889, is itself full of turmoil and energy. And until 2005, it will be on public display in the former Swingline staple factory on 33rd Street, near the corner of Queens Boulevard.
The decision of the Museum of Modern Art to relocate there, during the course of renovations of its Manhattan home, has strengthened Northwestern Queens’ claim to be a major cultural center. MoMA QNS has brought attention also to the recreational and educational treasures available to the community, which contains a large Irish-American and Irish immigrant population.
Sparsely populated Long Island City, the postal address of some of those treasures, has long been talked up as a neighborhood. The buzz was helped by the higher profile of P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, which since 1999 has been affiliated with MoMA. And then a few artists moved into streets better known for storage buildings, some of which are packed with files companies don’t need close to hand. But the neighborhood’s billing as the next Soho was greatly overstated.
Northwestern Queens, though, has things Soho hasn’t. For example, much of its reputation rests on two outstanding institutions that opened in the 1980s: one celebrating the art and science of the screen, the other dedicated to the work of one man. The American Museum of the Moving Image is located in streets in Astoria that have been associated with filmmaking since 1920. On Vernon Avenue, the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, founded by one of the great American sculptors of the 20th century, occupies 13 galleries on two floors, as well as a walled garden of 8,000 square feet. The Noguchi Museum, however, because of renovations, is also into its second year in a temporary space, which it shares with the Museum for African Art, on 43rd Avenue.
For the immediate future, though, much of the spotlight will be on the MoMA building, 5 minutes’ walk away.

Van Gogh believed that the after-life would provide opportunities for extraterrestrial travel. He said: “Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.” Almost a century and a quarter after his suicide, the train remains an important mode of transport for the living.
And an ordinary mortal, standing in the concourse of Grand Central Station, and reliant only on foot and subway, is closer to MoMA QNS than to any other of the other major-league galleries or museums in New York City .
Some punters first have to get under a psychological barrier: the East River. The train ride itself, however, takes just 12 minutes. Of course, it’s considerably less for someone boarding at any of the four stations to the east of the new gallery space, in Sunnyside and Woodside.
Unlike those neighborhoods, nobody has ever argued that Long Island City is in any sense pretty. But MoMA seems anxious to connect with its roots. One handout says: “The intense blue stucco exterior recalls the original bright blue brick of the Swingline factory.”
Like all of the spaces mentioned here, the MoMA building is an oasis in gritty streets. Its 160,000 square feet has a caf

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