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Museum for African Art opens temporary LIC site

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Long Island City’s growing collection of art institutions will advance one more notch Saturday when the Museum for African Art opens the doors to its new galleries for a weekend of free admission.

The 18-year-old museum has moved from its longtime headquarters in SoHo to a temporary space at 36-01 43rd Ave., where it will remain for three to four years until its permanent home on the north end of Manhattan’s Museum Mile along Fifth Avenue is completed.

“We are very excited about our move to Queens, which helps fulfill part of the museum’s long-term plan to reach out to ever-growing numbers of New Yorkers as well as the city’s visitors,” said Elsie McCabe, the museum’s president. “As the most diverse of New York’s boroughs, Queens is an appropriate place for us as we strive to build intra-cultural understanding through the arts.”

The museum opens Saturday morning at 11 a.m. for a weekend celebration featuring a ribbon-cutting and ceremonial libation at 12:30 p.m. as well as a musical performance by Dominic Kanza and the African Rhythm Machine at 1:30 p.m. It will remain open until 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The regular admission fee of $5 for adults and $2.50 for students and seniors will be waived.

The new facility occupies the third floor of an industrial building that already holds the temporary gallery for the Isamu Noguchi Museum, which closed its garden on Vernon Boulevard for renovations earlier this year. Both are only four blocks from MoMA QNS, the Queens branch of the Museum of Modern Art that opened to great fanfare this summer on 33rd Street and Queens Boulevard.

MoMA QNS is slated to remain open until 2005, by which time the reconstruction of its Manhattan home is expected to end.

The recent migration of so many cultural facilities into Long Island City helped encourage the Museum for African Art to set up its temporary quarters there, said its deputy director, Anne Stark.

“It’s not an area that a lot of people are terribly familiar with,” Stark said in an interview shortly after the move was announced earlier this year. “But together we hope that because it will be such a critical mass of institutions that we can call attention to it and get people to try something new.”

The neighborhood is also home to a number of permanent art institutions such as the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center, Socrates Sculpture Park and the American Museum of the Moving Image.

The museum’s opening exhibition, “Facing the Mask,” will use the familiar motif of the mask to expose people to all facets of African culture, including music, dance, masquerade rituals and role playing.

“It’s a great point of entry through which to introduce people to African art and culture, because through the mask you learn about music traditions, dance traditions, war and gender traditions in African cultures,” Stark said. “We think it will be a real crowd pleaser and therefore a great way for new people to discover us.”

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

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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