Art museum head senses LIC ‘magic’

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Long Island City was not the first neighborhood officials at the Museum of Modern Art eyed to house their temporary exhibition space while the institution’s Manhattan facility was closed for renovation.

Their first choice had been to scour nearby buildings along 53rd Street and the surrounding blocks in Manhattan. But they eventually committed to installing art along Queens Boulevard in the blue shell of the former Swingline staple building, which the museum had already purchased for use as a storage site.

“It’s been magic ever since,” MoMA’s director Glenn Lowry told a crowd of borough business leaders last Thursday as he traced the route the museum had taken before it landed in Long Island City.

Lowry spoke at a podium borrowed from the Kaufman Astoria Studios in front of the “Tut’s Fever” movie house exhibition at the American Museum of the Moving Image, symbolically affirming his message that MoMA is only adding to a network of cultural institutions that has long thrived in Long Island City.

“We are very cognizant that we are coming into a community with a long, strong tradition of fostering the arts,” he said.

But the presence of one of the world’s premier art institutions certainly gives the neighborhood a heightened prominence, Lowry acknowledged, which the museum is highlighting by spreading the spotlight among its neighbors.

MoMA has launched a major promotional campaign to inform people about the move to Queens, much of which is focused on drawing attention to the other sites in the neighborhood, like AMMI, the Socrates Sculpture Park, the Noguchi Museum and PS 1 Institute for Contemporary Art.

“Our success is a function of everyone else’s success,” Lowry said.

MoMA’s decision to move into Queens has also started to catalyze even more institutions to move into the area, adding to the critical mass of local art destinations. Since MoMA announced its jump across the river, SculptureCenter has moved to Long Island City and the Museum for African Art has made plans to occupy a temporary exhibition center near MoMA QNS until its own permanent facility in Manhattan is completed.

When MoMA QNS opens June 29, it will inaugurate a three-year period during which the museum’s primary exhibition space will be housed in Long Island City while its longtime home on 53rd Street is closed for renovations.

The Swingline building was originally purchased for exclusive use as a storage and research facility to consolidate multiple sites housing the museum’s collection into one location. The decision to house the museum’s exhibition program in Long Island City space during the Manhattan renovation came only later, Lowry said.

The majority of the MoMA QNS building is currently devoted to storage and research. Although some have speculated that the museum will maintain some open galleries in Long Island City even after the return to Manhattan, Lowry stressed that the museum will eventually take back the exhibition space for storage purposes.

“We bought the Swingline staple building in order to solve our storage problem,” Lowry said. “We will gradually reoccupy the space we temporarily borrowed for exhibition.”

Although Lowry said he hopes to have “some kind of ongoing program at Queens for a while,” he stressed that the MoMA QNS facility will not be going anywhere — even after the museum’s Manhattan home reopens.

“While our exhibition program is a temporary one until our new building is finished, our presence in Long Island City is permanent.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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