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Portrait of MoMA’s new home: Long Island City

The area is home to a growing number of cultural institutions

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Long Island City is right in the centre of the huge conurbation of Queens, which has two airports and has become the preferred route into Manhattan. A large number of artists live there—2,000 at the last count—and it also benefits from community networks such as Art Frenzy.

Long Island City has been chosen by a growing number of cultural institutions: “Far from being forced to come here, these cultural bodies actually choose to do so,” Adam Rubin, director of special projects for the Long Island City Business Development, stated. Rents for industrial premises, between $5 and $17 for just under a square metre, are particularly attractive in comparison to the huge rents of Manhattan.

P.S.1

P.S.1, the alternative arts centre famous for its pace-setting exhibitions, is the cornerstone of the new arrangement. This progressive institution bought a former public school building (hence its name) in 1976 and has left much of the interior untouched. The exterior has also deliberately retained a somewhat dingy aspect.

The Fischer Landau Center

The Fisher Landau Center, which opened very quietly in 1991, holds 1,000 works of art which belonged to Emily Fisher Landau, the famous collector who was also a trustee of the Whitney Museum. The former parachute factory, now transformed into a white cube, houses the work mainly of American artists, including the largest collection of the work of Ed Ruscha in private hands.

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum

This is housed in a former photogravure factory with a delightful park; it contains about 250 sculptures by the Japanese artist who set up his studio in Long Island City in 1960.

Socrates Sculpture Park

In a similar spirit the sculptor Mark di Suvero set up his studio in a former brick factory. With other artists, he led a campaign to clean up and rehabilitate a no-man’s land beside the Hudson River, the beginning of the Socrates Sculpture Park.

American Museum of the Moving Image

This has been located in the nearby Astoria district since 1981, and holds a collection of souvenirs of the cinema, including the costumes for Annie Hall and the products derived from Star Trek.

Sculpture Center

Formerly on the Upper East Side, this is relocating to Long Island City, a few blocks away from MoMA and P.S.1. The centre opens this autumn and is hoping to triple entrances from 6,000 to 18,000 in the first year after its move.

The Center for Media Art

Not part of the traditional New York circuit, this opened its doors opposite P.S.1 in spring 2001. It is devoted to new technology and has a discreet godfather in the shape of Nam June Paik. It also has financial backing from Korea and local partners such as Con Edison. Although its intention is to make a reputation for itself as a research laboratory for students and professionals, it has been slow to get going and the building is disliked by its immediate neighbours.

The future for commercial galleries

According to rumours selectively leaked by the larger institutions, a lot of galleries are planning to invest in Long Island City. Nevertheless, the migration does not look as if it will rival the migration to SoHo in the 1970s, then to Chelsea in the early 1990s.

There are still people who are sceptical that the museum presence in Long Island City will attract the galleries. After all the converse has not happened: no gallery has appeared near the Whitney Museum or the Guggenheim. “I think Chelsea is the area that is going to remain the favourite,” we were told by Gilbert Brownstone, who formerly had his own gallery in Paris.

Marian Goodman admits to have turned down the proposal to share a space with another gallery owner who wanted to set up shop in Long Island City, but she believes that, “Long Island City will attract many more visitors than before; it is difficult to predict what is going to happen, but I feel sure that it will become an area for very young galleries.”

In fact, some small alternative galleries have already moved in. One of the earliest, the gallery belonging to the Texan Eugene Binder, opened in 1995.

The Dorsky Gallery, which was established in 1963 and had been in SoHo since 1988, has just opened in Long Island City. The decision was taken on economic as well as aesthetic grounds: “We feel that the programme of our gallery corresponds more closely to the trends set by MoMA and P.S.1. In addition, the exorbitant rents in Manhattan also encouraged us to relocate. We discussed the matter with 20 or 30 other gallery owners who were interested in the short term rather than in the long term, because their leases are coming up for renewal,” Noah Dorsky explains.

Jean Fremon, co-director of Galerie Lelon in Paris and a connoisseur of the New York art scene, says, “ I think that in 10 years time, the galleries will have become established in Long Island City and Brooklyn. Nevertheless, their progress will be very different from the emigration in the past to places like SoHo and Chelsea. Chelsea caused the collapse of SoHo, but the appearance of a new centre will not kill Chelsea because there has to be some space for galleries in Manhattan. Contrary to what happened in SoHo, the galleries in Chelsea almost all own their own space. This is a new phenomenon, galleries used not to buy their premises.

“I think that at the outset Long Island City will be an experimental area, with small innovative galleries which will be visited by discerning clients on Saturdays and Sundays.”

An important factor will be transport as Long Island City needs a better public transport city. “The institutions are scattered, and the distances to be covered are much greater than the five blocks which constitute the heart of Chelsea,” the Fischer Landau Center tells us regretfully.

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