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For most New Yorkers, Corona, Queens, does not instantly spring to mind when considering the city’s plethora of art and culture destinations. However, tucked behind a tree-lined highway in the former site of the 1939 World’s Fair, sits the Queens Museum of Art; the contemporary art space cum community center home to Robert Moses’ much beloved panorama of New York City.
Having closed for the summer on June 3, the museum is now kicking off renovations – overseen by British architect Nicholas Grimshaw – that will see the space double in size and subsequently halve its name when its reopens in November. On a preview tour of the new site, the museum’s Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl told Whitewall that changing the name to the shorter “Queens Museum” is a means “to better reflect who we are [as a museum that] speaks to the Queens community.”
Speaking to the Queens community is an attribute that the museum holds close to its heart, with special needs classrooms, after-school development initiatives and the New New Yorkers program (educational classes taught in languages ranging from Mandarin to Urdu) all in existence already, and further programs planned for when the expansion is complete. The renovations intend to integrate the community aspect with contemporary art even more when, come October, an artist residency program will be launched with open studios on view within the museum.
“Openness” was a word Finkelpearl couldn’t emphasize enough when discussing the airy 50,000 square foot extension. The vast, symmetrical space boasts elements of both Dia Beacon in upstate New York, and the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London, paving the way for performances and large-scale installations that have not yet been possible at the museum. Pedro Reyes will be one of the first artists to exhibit work in the new space with “pUN”, a mock UN assembly, that will convene Queens locals to represent all of the UN member states, creating a UN for the people.
With a huge emphasis on light, hanging glass enclosures will surround the vast skylights in the room adding additional light to the space, while the front lawn preceding the new entrance will be extended for concerts, performances, and film series. The light balance of the extension is intended to achieve a continuous feel, in the hope that the museum will become an intrinsic part of both the park and the community.
With both the Queens Biennale and Peter Schumann (the brains behind the politicised Bread and Puppet theatre company) also lined up to show in the new space, the museum promises to continue to speak to the Queens community through contemporary art. “Peace through understanding” was the term Tom Finkelpearl used to describe the museum’s all-inclusive nature; “We want a town square where everyone gets together.”