Queensboro getting ready for art expansion

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Queensborough Community College’s commitment to art and culture embraces many aspects. Consider the college’s Professional Performing Arts Series; the Presidential Lecture Series; the Holocaust Resource Center and Archives; and the Queensborough Community College Art Gallery, now undergoing a $5.5 million renovation and preparing for a grand reopening in the fall.

“We have works of art all over the campus,” said college President Eduardo J. Martí with obvious pride in his voice. But none can compare with what is coming to Queensborough when the gallery-turned-museum reopens in October.

“The Modernist Debate: American Artistic Discourse 1950-1980,” which traces artistic movements streaming through the New York art scene in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, will be the debut exhibit for the overhauled space.

The style represented in the exhibit include Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Post-Painterly Abstraction, New Realism, Assemblage and Environment, and Minimalism. Artists showcased, by original works from private collections, are: Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Milton Resnick, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, George Segal, Richard Estes, Chuck Close, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Mark Rothko, and Frank Stella.

The exhibit is a collaboration between Queensborough Community College Art Gallery, with Faustino Quintanilla as director, and Circulo de Bellas Artes, a cultural institution in Madrid, Spain, featuring a visual arts gallery, performing arts, and a dinner club.

Opening in Madrid this week, the exhibit makes two additional stops in Spain before coming to the campus gallery in Bayside in October and staying there for three months. The curator for the exhibit is Stephen Foster, an accomplished art scholar and expert in Dadaism.

Martí is hoping that the introduction of the new museum with such a potentially popular exhibit will seed public support and could lead to private funding. Although the renovations for the gallery are funded by New York City and New York State, future events and exhibitions will likely depend largely on the private sector.

“I would love to see the art gallery with an endowment to allow ongoing exhibits of this dimension,” Martí said. “If I had a magic wand, I would have people in Queens saying there’s something important going on here to preserve and maintain forever.”

He added: “A million dollars to Harvard is lost; a million dollars here dazzles.”

“The art gallery and upcoming reopening exhibition is a wonderful product to sell. It’s the pride of the college,” said Laura Kotkin, director of development at the college, who is working to seek out corporate sponsorship for the museum.

Hopes are high for sponsors since Queensborough, and the city’s college system as a whole, is becoming a mainstay in education — especially among Queens’s immigrant population.

“Some 46 percent of our students are immigrants, and most are less than privileged; they are looking for jobs and want to do the best they can with their lives,” Martí said. “I think that public education generally satisfies that need for students, but unless somebody makes an effort, that’s where it ends.

“I’m trying to provide an environment in this institution where the student is able to appreciate not only aesthetics, but the history, the political thinking at every level so necessary for critical thinking.”

Martí’s outlook puts the community college on the cutting edge of higher education in a world where, according to Martí, 45 percent of students in the United States attend community colleges.

In dealing with the massive cultural diversity of Queens, Martí is also concerned with the issue of prejudice. He said he would like to place the college’s Holocaust Resource Center and Archives in a prominent position on campus to promote an understanding of and dialogue about prejudice among students.

But more than anything, Martí wants Queensborough Community College to be a “cultural beacon” to the community at large.

In this vein the nearly 40-year-old Queensborough Community College Art Gallery’s renovation, now in progress, will give the population of the college and the borough a cultural home that has the potential to endure for generations to come.

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