Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 58 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Sam Anderson’s delightfully spooky cluster of sculptures, all titled “E,” part of her basement installation called “The Park.”

Sam Anderson, "The Park," SculptureCenter
Hello, Ladies

SculptureCenter, Queens, New YorkSculptureCenter, a museum dedicated to, yes, sculpture, resides in an historic old trolley garage in the eye of the gentrification storm that is Long Island City these days.  The stroll there from the Queensboro Plaza subway station boggles the mind — new residential high rises seem to be sprouting on every single lot for blocks around.


SculptureCenter has a venerable history. An artist named Dorothea Denslow founded a group called The Clay Club back in the 1920s. Photos suggest a  jolly bunch of flappers and rogues united by their love of sculpture.  Resident in a couple of different spots in Manhattan during most of the 20th century, the organization rebranded as the Sculpture Center, I guess to sound more grown-up.  With the move to Long Island City in 2001, it gained space even as it lost its space (and its “the”) to become “SculptureCenter.”

I love the space — an old red brick structure characteristically sensitively adapted by Maya Lin, who also did the Museum of Chinese in America.  The building is completely open on the inside.  Cathedral-like, it is simultaneously cavernous and flooded with light.  It also boasts a petite gravel garden, and has the spookiest museum basement I’ve yet visited.  If SculptureCenter hosts a Hallowe’en haunted house, I would totally go. 

SculptureCenter, Queens, New York It added on a new entry and a facade in glass and Cor-Ten steel by Andrew Berman just a couple of years ago.  It’s well done, in that the contemporary part marries to the traditional part beautifully.  But at the same time, I find it a little on-the-nose.  Like perhaps SculptureCenter wants to be a Richard Serra just a little too much.  Regardless, the building presents an extremely sculptural experience, as well as providing a home for sculpture.

SculptureCenter Interior, Queens, New York

What I Saw

When I visited, it had three exhibitions going.

Spooky Basement, SculptureCenter, Queens
The dark at the end of the tunnel

Sam Anderson took the spooky basement and made it even spookier, with an installation of sculptures called “The Park.”  This envisioned a sort of town square populated by all sorts of denizens, including the “E”‘s above, a student and a teacher, a prancing horse, and even Death.  She incorporated changing music (sometimes scary, sometimes benign) very effectively to heighten the mood.  I didn’t get everything she was trying to do (rack of pool cues in the garden for some reason…) but I liked it just the same.


Sam Anderson, "The Park," SculptureCenter
Sam Anderson, “Chapel No. 1,” 2006. Clay, wood, metal, cloth, lightbox, acrylic


Teresa Burga, SculptureCenter, QueensPeruvian artist Teresa Burga has a lighthearted show called “Mano Mal Dibujada,” or Badly Drawn Hand. This consisted of nine sculptures based on sketches of the artist’s hands.  She also showed a wonderful set of prismatic, colorfully graphic blocks that someone should shrink down and make into actual building blocks.  Her drawings that form the plans for the blocks accompany the blocks themselves.  Humorous and interesting.

Teresa Burga, SculptureCenter, Queens
Teresa Burga, “Prismas,” 2012

And Charlotte Prodger’s “Subtotal” was actually not a sculpture at all, but a video installation and a couple of works on paper, with a nominal nod to sculpture in the form of a wooden framework on the floor.  I have a hit-or-miss thing with video art. This was a miss — what I saw felt self indulgently autobiographical and not terribly engaging.

What is “Sculpture”?

SculptureCenter is one of several museums around the city that interpret their mandates…loosely.  What is a sculpture? Based on this place, a video installation or a series of drawings somehow count. Kind of like the Drawing Center plays a little fast and loose with what constitutes “drawing.” I don’t fault SculptureCenter for that. Its management can interpret their mandate however they like. 

Nevertheless, SculptureCenter’s heritage rests squarely (or perhaps cubely) on three-dimensional objects.  

Moreover, its lofty, light-filled space works brilliantly for displaying that kind of work.  It’s not so good for paintings or drawings, and it seemed a shame they had to construct a dark space to show Prodger’s video. 

Finally, in a city chock full of generic contemporary art spaces, a solid and meaningful focus on sculpture (traditionally defined) differentiates this institution.  In its curators’ shoes, I would not surrender that so easily.

Garden, SculptureCenter, Queens
SculptureCenter’s Garden

Who Should Visit?

SculptureCenter has a tremendous, atmospheric space and a long history. It’s executing well against its mission, even if I’m not sure I’m entirely aligned with it. I feel confident they’ll have shows worth seeing, and anyone interested in contemporary art will find a visit well worth their time.

SculptureCenter, Queens, New York
Trolley Garage Turned Sculpture Garage

For Reference:

Address 44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City, Queens
Cost  General Admission:  $5 Suggested
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