CB 4 skeptical of library art

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The new Elmhurst Library will be three stories tall and feature a permanent art fixture, officials announced last week at a Community Board 4 meeting, but the nature of that installation was the subject of controversy among board members.

The $11.3 million facility is still in the design stages, said Kelly Pajek, the city Cultural Affairs Department Percent for Art program deputy director. She displayed several sketches depicting a large, contemporary-styled structure with large glass windows.

Percent for Art dedicates 1 percent of the budget for a new public building to a permanent art piece.

Manhattan-based artist Allan McCollum won the competition for the installation, though Pajek said Cultural Affairs did consider artists from Queens. McCollum, an established artist who works in mass production techniques, proposed an installation of perhaps 1,000 unique wooden shapes carved from elm in tribute to the community's namesake. The shapes, roughly 6 inches in diameter, would be mounted on a panel against the walls of the new library's adult reading room.

Community board members were more than a little skeptical. Many complained the work ignored the community's history and traditions.

"That's a Rorschach test," said one board member of the wooden shape McCollum brought as an example.

Member Carmela George asked if the project would include any non-abstract art.

"Years ago, when they did buildings, they had pictures of immigrants. I'm sure that's all pass now, but they're just losing the whole 'art' thing."

"Maybe there's a way to incorporate the history and richness of the culture with the art," said Roseanne Geiger.

"Which customs do you choose?" McCollum said, noting 150 languages are spoken in Queens. "My idea was to transcend the specific and express the concept of diversity through all these shapes."

"Just one, just the history, period," George replied.

Not all board members were critical of the proposed piece, however. Member Clara Salas called the artwork "a breath of fresh air."

Plans for the new library raised a minor outcry from history buffs interested in preserving the old building, which was erected in 1906.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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