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Move over Manhattan, we have Queens Museum

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Perhaps not as well known is the Queens Museum of Art at the old World's Fair grounds in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

It may be Queens' almost secret treasure. Not only does it have the incredibly detailed Panorama of the City of New York, but its galleries are big, airy and light-filled, and there are many cool things to do for the kids.

For the next couple of months the museum is exhibiting some fascinating artwork: Heart of Glass; Gio Ponti: A Metaphysical World; Nancy Friedemann's Threshold; Lucas Monaco's Parallel Plane - Mapping Corona; and a collaboration by Luca Buvoli and composer Jeffrey Lependorf: Not a Superhero.

The Ponti exhibit features the work of the architect, designer and founder of the magazine "Domus" (Latin for "home"). On view are samples of his modern furniture and photos of his many buildings, including the Denver Art Museum and the Pirelli Towers in Milan. The focus here is on the furnishings, some of which, like his vases and Venini lamp, have a nice Art Moderne-ish beauty to them. Others, like his living room sets and chairs, recall what your family used to sit on in the 1950s, the difference being your family probably couldn't afford this stuff. Even the tapered furniture legs have those brass ferrules at the ends

Ponti's Montecatini Chair (1936) is made entirely of aluminum and looks downright painful to sit on. You can't help thinking, all they'd have to do is wire it up and it would make a great substitute for Ol' Sparky.

But most of Ponti's furniture is pleasing to the eye, if not to the gluteus maximus, especially the collection of side chairs positioned in niches in a wall.

Heart of Glass features the works of various young artists who use glass, and though the catalog can be a bit esoteric - "the alchemy of glass ... makes it a perfect metaphor for the transformative power of objects" - the exhibit is also great fun.

One comes first to Not Vital's Snowballs (1998), which are imperfect glass spheres, some filled with what looks like snowballs, set in the wall and lit with a frosty light that makes you long to touch them just to see how cold they are.

Next is a dimly lit room and Tony Oursler's The Empty Cabinet (2000), which is an armoire with mirrors set into its doors. On the floor behind it is a blue glass egg with a talking head in it - it's not evident how the artist did this but it's fascinating.

Nearby are Oursler's graduated, multicolored, glass, horned demon heads, each with a light bulb inside, and then a video installation with another horned demon head behind it.

After this one emerges into a gallery full of natural light that features glassworks by Josiah McElheny inspired by sacred folklore, like Recreating a Miraculous Object (1997-99) - a simple glass cup is patterned after a similar cup that fell from a bell tower and not only didn't break but cracked the pavement; or a gold-speckled plate fashioned after a halo that adorns the head of one of Botticelli's saints.

The viewer moves from this room to works by Jean Michel Othoniel. There's Pink Treasure Box (1999), a pink glass tank full of huge glass beads and shapes, some purple or clear or pink, some strung together. The viewer is tempted to touch some of them, but it's against the rules.

There's a similar clear box full of glass beads and blobs, and two enormous hanging necklaces, one Untitled (1998) and the other called Le Collier Seine (1998), made of opaque glass beads and so huge one can imagine them around the necks of those scared elephants in India.

Othoniel's Le Collier Ouvert (1997) is a hanging chain of huge Murano glass beads that's also hard to resist touching. The brilliant curtain of tiny glass beads and darning needles and hoops called Passage Amoureux (1998), hung in a doorway.

In the next bright gallery one sees Kathy Schimert's The Sun (1998). A wall bursts with yellow glass blobs and glass trumpets that evoke the sun's spots, flares, prominences and convection zones.

"They look like mushrooms," one viewer said.

Then one comes to the playful Les Paroles XVI (1996) by Jan Vercruysee, where a glass chair is positioned in the middle of a shallow box full of glass marbles - more marbles than you've likely seen anywhere.

After this, one walks downstairs to another space, where Robin Winters' Table (1999) stands full of funny plaster faces topped with glass hats that look like half-melted kitchen utensils. It's absolutely sweet and weird; you can see half-melted orange juicers, sugar bowls, condiment jars, glass pot lids.

Across the room is Winters' huge installation, "Instant Messenger" (1989-2001), which is a dry wading pool with alphabets heaped in the middle surrounded by all kinds of glass and plaster things, and watched over by two collies wearing green glass hats. It's not surprising that it took the artist 12 years to put it all together.

The other exhibits are upstairs and you can take the scenic route - literally. The writer went through the amazing Panorama (she saw where she lives!) where Buvoli's Not a Superhero, a tiny little man in a cape, came in for a landing at LaGuardia Airport.

On the second floor's ramp and wedge is Nancy Friedemann's Threshold. One stands at the top of the ramp and sees an abstract vase of flowers on the wall at its end. As you come closer, you see that it's made up entirely of Spanish and other words written directly on the wall - even the plate over the electrical outlet isn't spared. The words fray into pieces at the very edges.

As you turn the corner and walk down the other ramp you notice red graffiti on the wedge, and your first thought is that some child got hold of a red crayon and started scribbling - the rough texture and stark white of the wall is irresistible. Then you realize that this, too, is the work of the artist. The words, when you can read them, are somewhat foreboding: "my first day out of the hospital" is one fragment.

The admission - $5, half-price for seniors and children, free for members and children under 5 years old - is far less than, let's say, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They also have a great little gift shop, and afterwards you can go outside and sit around the Unisphere.

It's almost like being at the World's Fair again.

Reach Qguide writer Arlene McKanic by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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