February 15, 2004
Maybe It Should Be Called Museum Warehouse Mile
By JIM O'GRADY
Western Queens has been enjoying a brief turn on the stage of New York's cultural big time. The temporary home of the Museum of Modern Art in Sunnyside, Queens, or MoMA QNS, as the outpost is called, has averaged 1,000 to 2,000 visitors a day since it opened in June 2002, and it pulled even bigger numbers during a blockbuster Matisse-Picasso show last spring.
Local community leaders and merchants worry that with the closing of the MoMA QNS exhibition space in September, the visitors will disappear and the area will revert to its mundane self.
But City Councilman Eric Gioia thinks he has a solution. He is developing a plan to coax large cultural institutions in Manhattan to follow the Modern's lead and set up storage and satellite exhibit space in some of the area's underused and low-cost warehouse spaces. He envisions a "museum mile'' of such spaces, stretching from Long Island City to Sunnyside and overlapping an area that already has small cultural fixtures like the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum and the P. S. 1 Contemporary Art Center.
"Every cultural facility has more art or artifacts than they can show," Mr. Gioia said last week. "They spend an enormous amount of money for storage. My idea is to store their art in Queens and put some of it on display in gallery space." As for other, failed, attempts to build museum outposts - like the Guggenheim's satellite in SoHo, which closed two years ago - Mr. Gioia said that one difference in his plan was that museum-size space in western Queens was plentiful and cheap.
Mr. Gioia has already approached administrators at institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Although the American Museum of the Moving Image is not far away, in Astoria, its director, Rochelle Slovin, is intrigued.
"If part of the plan is for the city to subsidize museum-quality storage in Long Island City that many cultural institutions could use, and the requirement would be that you need to open a gallery to go along with it, I'd do it in a minute," Ms. Slovin said.
The key word, and possible sticking point, is subsidy. Tax breaks, the city's main incentive to draw businesses to neglected areas, are unavailable to nonprofit institutions like museums, which operate largely tax-free.
And at least one major Manhattan institution, the Metropolitan, is unlikely to open a satellite exhibit, said Harold Holzer, a spokesman. "Our policy is to keep the collection at its core," he said.
But Mr. Gioia may entice the Met to acquire local storage space, and Mr. Holzer added that if a first-rate exhibition space opened, the Metropolitan would consider lending it works of art.
Ben Adams, a lawyer from Sunnyside, suspects that Mr. Gioia's museum mile would draw plenty of visitors. MoMA QNS proved not only that Manhattanites would travel to western Queens, he said, but that nearby Brooklyn and Long Island hold a large untapped audience of cultural consumers.
"Some old Irish immigrants in my building who never would have gone to MoMA in Manhattan popped by MoMA QNS one day,'' he said, "and came back and talked to me about it for an entire afternoon."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company