Long Island City in Queens (in 2019, notoriously known to some as the proposed location of Amazon’s HQ2, where the average rent of a one-bedroom hovers around $3,281), has a perplexing reputation when it comes to its art scene. With a disparate range of artist studios, established galleries, “curated” real estate buildings, DIY studios stressing community education, and traditional non-profits, it lacks the cohesion or established reputation of other arts neighborhoods.
This summer, Gallery Nights, organized by LIC Arts Open, seeks to rectify this disjointed feeling by bringing these neighborhood art spaces together every third Thursday of the month for after-hour events and exhibitions, encouraging connectivity between new and existing cultural spaces and the local community. Organized by Gabriella Mazza and Richard Mazda, the organization is dedicated to keeping the local cultural art scene alive and active.
How this programming develops as the neighborhood, already gentrified for well over a decade, becomes home to more and more corporate offices, will be noteworthy to watch. What Amazon turned down could easily become home to another tech or health care giant. This month’s Gallery Nights event, the second of the series, offered a look at the artists and organizations thriving, unnoticed or perhaps just underrepresented, in Long Island City.
Beginning the evening inside the cavernous exhibition space at ScuptureCenter, the massive skeletal work of French artist Jean-Luc Moulène, “More or Less Bone” (2018-19), made of fiberglass and epoxy paint, turns the space into an imagined archeological dig, excavating the unknown. The bone-like sculpture is the product of Moulène’s exploration into advanced software and natural forms. More conceptual than fantastical, the piece still evokes the recently updated list of 28,000 species now threatened with extinction. As the natural world deteriorates around us, it’s hard not to see this sculpture in the most prescient light possible.
Moving from the conceptual into the literal, the basement exhibition, “Closed for Installation” (2019) by West Coast artist Fiona Connor, takes viewers on a journey through the industrial inner-workings of the building’s substructure with a collection of everyday objects recast in bronze. Easily dismissed as kitschy, the installation of stools, dustpans, brooms, levels, drills, crates, hammers, and drop cloths raises poignant questions about everyday tools recontextualized into works of art.
Moving from the highly curated to the festive and inclusive, the group exhibition The Artists of Materials for the Arts (MFTA), is housed inside the city-operated Department of Cultural Affairs warehouse dedicated to matching donated materials with non-profit organizations, bringing together art, readings, and live music. The playful collages of Virginia Hoffman were created from MFTA’s warehouse of materials, while the found object work of artist-in-residence Annalisa Iadicicco was a compelling mix of urban refuse and reclaimed portraiture. The founder of The Blue Bus Project, a hippie-meets-activist cultural vehicle, Iadicicco is an artist interested in taking social, political, and educational conversations beyond the gallery.
A space with a similar local vibe was found at AlterWork Studios, an inviting, colorful building equipped with micro studios, a ceramic workspace and darkroom, exhibition space, and monthly potluck gatherings. Open since 2017 and a relative newcomer to LIC scene, founder and artist Tina Stipanovic happily gave tours of the space, inviting the public to wander and snack, while a small exhibition of member-only work seemed like an afterthought. Throughout the evening, multipurpose spaces like AlterWork Studios struggled to find the right a balance between workspace and gallery space, where the process of making often overshadowed viewing.
Wandering into Local Project Art Space showing the performative, live-in installation of the SVA MFA candidate Nicole Finley titled Desiring Machines for Living, a DIY sensibility dominated the gallery. Like the bones of a house under construction, raw 2x4s created a structural frame throughout the space, while the artist herself lived inside a large crate at the center of the space during open hours. Daily additions to the exhibition included drawings, ready-mades, and the detritus of artistic inspiration. The piece seemed to revolve around a kind of stream of consciousness artmaking.
The massive group show at The Factory, a WeWork-inspired building housing businesses from retail headquarters to bakeries and restaurants, had a more corporate aesthetic akin to “fluid” spaces like Brooklyn’s Industry City. Perhaps the most promising art space based on the sheer size of the two galleries inside, the LIC Arts Open Gallery at The Factory could become a pivotal space in this community, able to show large-scale, 3-D work in an open floorplan. Much like Industry City, however, it has yet to be seen if these corporate, multipurpose buildings can generate a reputation in the arts beyond the level of tourist attraction.
Ending the night on the rooftop of Departure Studios opening reception, the impressive turnout and party vibe had me wishing the Gallery Nights event was better attended. Granted, summer in the city tends to stall as art galleries stockpile blockbuster shows for the much-anticipated September openings, but perhaps there are other ways to engage local or even similar arts communities. If the real reason for the demise of so many retail spaces isn’t Amazon or the economy, but ever-increasing rents, what can art spaces do to encourage and invigorate each other?
LIC Arts Open Gallery Nights will be held every third Thursday of the month through December 2019.