When MOMA moved to Queens for the several years it will take to rebuild the museum in Manhattan, the New York Subway System took on a new popularity. MOMA must have decided that to get people to come way out to Long Island City (part of Queens for the unknowing,) they would have to mount a blockbuster art show. What seems to be a winner in that category is the double barreled two star extravaganza. Thus was the Matisse-Picasso Show born. It has proved to be a winner in all sorts of ways.
One of the best outcomes of MOMA’s planning and execution of the show is that it gave tons of people the idea to go to Queens, including me. I managed to get there, with the help and driving ability of my cultural attaché and brave friend who is willing to take on any driving challenge. I have to say, it was actually easy to follow the directions, which the museum has made available all over the place, from newspaper ads to web sites.
There are lots of things going on in Long Island City. First of all you get a great view of Manhattan, which is not to be sneezed at.
Secondly, there are now at least seven great museums to see in Queens, all available by subway or bus. The Queens Artlink is a free weekend shuttle bus service to all these cultural attractions in Queens. For more information on this call (212) 708-9750, or go to www.queensartlink.org.
There is also a dynamite map of Astoria, Long Island City and Sunnyside, all parts of Queens, called “the ART Loop” which is put out by the Queens Council of the Arts, which can be found at (718) 647-3377 or go to www.queenscouncilarts.org.
I’m giving you this information, because I didn’t find it until we were already in Long Island City, and it would have been ever so much more efficient to have had it ahead of time.
I have no experience of the subway to Queens, but it appears to be extremely easy to get there from Manhattan, and very worth while, if you are going to MOMA Queens, and/or to the Noguchi Museum or to P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. Our route, which was by way of the Triborough Bridge, would be easy if you have a large local map of the five boroughs.
All this exercise was amply rewarded, not only by the art that we saw (which engendered very lively conversations, I guarantee,) but also by the many ethnic restaurants in this part of Queens. In fact, choosing one was a difficult decision, finally made by our feet.
The Matisse-Picasso show had it detractors, but I was personally delighted to see all those wonderful familiar paintings, and some that I had never seen before. The show was mobbed in London, and that proved to be the case in Queens as well, despite the psychological distance.
The building that houses the temporary museum is a one-story former Swingline Staple Company warehouse, now painted a very bright blue. It is somewhat cramped, and it took some maneuvering to weave through the crowds to seethe glorious paintings. There is more room inside than you would suspect at first glance, and they have managed to fit in a small snack area, and a gift shop.
Outside the museum, there is much activity, and on a sunny day in early spring, there was a friendly carnival like atmosphere. Street food is available nearby, but we chose to walk up Queens Boulevard, and stop at the first restaurant on a list we were carrying. (As you can imagine, all sorts of magazines have carried recent articles on the area of the temporary MOMA and other nearby attractions.)
The first place we came to was Hemsin, a Turkish place that is recommended by Glenn Lowry, the Director of MOMA. It was very crowded, but much like its counterparts in Turkey and Greece, had extremely welcoming hostesses, eager to serve the strangers from the other worlds of Manhattan, Connecticut, and Westchester. (Yes, it was very clear who were neighborhood regulars and who were on a mission to discover MOMA-Queens.) The restaurant is large and full of delicious scents. It appears to have been first a bakery, and the crusty Turkish breads looked very enticing, to say nothing of the honey-soaked desserts. We were quickly ushered to a nice table way down in back, where we enjoyed a beer and some delicious souvlaki. It was much more than we could eat, but the tasty lamb was fork tender. There were many salads and Turkish pizzas on the menu as well.
There are other restaurants suggested in the area, including Manducatis, a Neopolitan one, and one called Dazies, also on Queens Boulevard, which is an old time family run Italian spot.
Although the Matisse-Picasso Exhibit is over, I have no doubt that MOMA will continue to attract its usual crowds of people, by staging more attention-getting shows to keep them coming for the next year or so, until the newly refurbished museum in Manhattan is ready to reopen.
After lunch we walked over to the Noguchi Museum a couple of blocks away. It too is in a temporary state, in a loft space at 36-01 43rd Avenue. On the floor above the Museum for African Art will be housed come September.
We browsed through the much reduced collection of Noguchi’s powerful sculptures, and an intriguing exhibit of photographs taken by Noguchi between 1949 and 1956, on a trip funded by a fellowship from the Bollingen Foundation, to study the environment of leisure in various countries. Though a book was never compiled from these studies, it would be easy to get lost in this journey.
There is so much more in Queens that we did not discover. Another museum recently opened to the public is the Fisher Landau Center for Art, which houses more than 1000 paintings by contemporary artists, open Thursday through Monday. I’ll bet they have a web site. Queens deserves a lot more attention.