Queens College Art Center

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 19 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Milanese designer Silvia Giovanardi’s samurai dress. Her work incorporates natural fibers and a lot of Japanese influence.  I don’t recall ever seeing a fashion riff on samurai armor before!

Fabric of Cultures at Queens College Art Center
Silvia Giovanardi, Samurai Dress
Library at Queens College, Flushing
Brutal in its efforts not to be Brutalist

The Queens College Art Center occupies a glassed-in hallway on the sixth floor of the fairly depressing, blocky library building on Queens College’s campus in the far reaches of Flushing.  This building doesn’t want to be Brutalist and standoffish, but its efforts to be welcoming are so forced and artificial that it ultimately feels even less welcoming than if the architects hadn’t tried in the first place.

The guard at the front desk may not exactly know that the library even houses an Art Center on its sixth floor. But based on my experience, if you’re nice about it and confident about where you’re going he will happily wave you on into the library, no need to show an ID or sign a guest register or anything.

The Art Center is literally a glorified hallway, running around the circumference of the building’s atrium.  It’s all windows on the interior, and I’m guessing on the exterior too, though they cover those up to create a place to hang art. It makes for an odd layout.  When I reviewed the Guggenheim, I cited as evidence of its failure the fact that no other architect emulated it.  But the Queens College Art Center, with a narrow gallery wrapped around an atrium, arguably does.  The exception that proves the rule, then.

I wonder if the space was really designed for art exhibits, or if the library architects just realized partway through construction that they had some wasted space up on six and thought, “what the heck, call it a gallery, no one will be the wiser.”  Either way, said architects don’t come off looking terribly good.

They didn’t even put the atrium on the side of the building with the view of Manhattan shimmering in the distance. I don’t know if I’d like the Art Center better that way, but I might.

View from the Queens College Library Sixth Floor Reading Room
Manhattan, distant

Just so I say something nice about it, it’s a fun and distinctive space. However, it’s so drastically limited and limiting, it’s hard to imagine very many installations that would look good and work well.

The Fabric of Cultures: Systems in the Making

Design Show, Queens College Art Center, FlushingThe current show, ostensibly on fashion, technology, and globalization, had its opening reception on the afternoon I visited. It makes about as good a use of the Queens College Art Center’s odd space as possible.  The show combines garments, textiles, photographs, books, video, and a few works on paper and sculptures, and that eclectic mix works for it.

On the other hand, the official description of the show bespeaks no small ambition.  It aims to “reflect on the art of making, craftsmanship and technology in a globalized world.” It “calls attention to the larger systems at play that influence the state of fashion, craft, and aesthetics that are constantly under development and in flux.” I mean, yikes. That’s some Met Fashion Institute-scale stuff, stuffed into a wide, curving hallway on the sixth floor of the Queens College Library.

Fashion Show, Queens College Arts Center

Grand ambitions notwithstanding, it’s a very confusing show in another way. It felt like an ad for Italian fashion designers wrapped in a bow of globalization and multiculturalism, and simultaneously a mash-up of academic theorizing and the Italian Chamber of Commerce. To the point where, in conjunction with the show the Art Center will hold something called a “Made in Italy Festival of Arts + Cultures.”

Maybe I’d be less confused about this exhibit if it got off its academic high horse and just called itself “Italian Fashion Today: Global Influences.” 

Feel Free to Skip the Queens College Art Center

In over 100 museum reviews, I have almost always come up with some positive reason to visit, or some type of person who might like a place. In this case, I’m just going to give everyone a pass.

The Queens College Art Center has grand ambitions mashed into a quirky space. I’m not sure it realizes the limitations that that space imposes on it. Outside of Queens College students and visiting alumni, I can’t think of anyone who should go, especially given how far most people would have to travel to get there.

Contrast that with Queens College’s modest and charming Godwin-Ternbach Museum, which I liked much better.  Indeed, I’m not sure why Queens College has both a museum and an art center.  Convoluted academic turf thing, probably.  Regardless, it’d be better with just one.

For Reference:

Address Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library, 6th Floor, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, Queens
Website qcartcenter.org
Cost  General Admission:  Free
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