The plants are terrific, but I will pick this tucked-away sundial.
It was a gift from Queens-based Bulova Watch Company, and a garden resident since April of 1951!
I still wonder whether I was right to include botanical gardens in my definition of museums. However, I did it, and I haven’t undone it. So another garden it is. I didn’t even know the Queens Botanical Garden existed when I started this project. However, it does bill itself as “a living museum,” so its staff seem to agree with me. It also calls itself “a place of peace and beauty for the quiet enjoyment of our visitors.” Please reserve your noisy enjoyment for places like the American Museum of Natural History.
Matthew Cusik creates images that initially look drawn or painted, but close up reveal that they’re collaged from meticulously cut up pictures, in the case of “Three Horses,” atlases. It was like seeing all the oceans of the world in a single wave.
Just a couple of blocks beyond the Museum of Modern Art’s Queens outpost of PS1 lies Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, another entrant in Long Island City’s burgeoning contemporary arts scene.
Despite the “gallery” in its name, Dorsky doesn’t sell art. Rather it is “dedicated to promoting contemporary visual arts to a broad public audience.” It holds three to four thematic exhibitions a year, for edification not commerce. The gallery doesn’t have a permanent curator; rather it invites “curators, writers, and art historians” to submit proposals for shows to fill the gallery. It also serves as an art exhibition space for several local colleges not blessed with their own on-campus art museums.
Dorsky’s building is modern, nondescript, and nearly windowless. It could house a small self-storage space, techie startup coworking space, or a secret government lab as easily as it could a setting for art. The interior is sleek and contemporary, which in New York gallery terms means high ceilings, column-less interiors, and concrete rather than wood floors. Actually, there are 2 art spaces at Dorsky and they split the difference, floor-wise.
The show I saw at Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs has one of the cleverest, simplest titles of all the art installations I’ve seen for this project. “Wake” is about water. Paraphrasing the guy minding the gallery when I visited, it’s about where water used to be and is no longer, and where it wasn’t before but increasingly is now, and will be into the future.
And yet it wasn’t all a climate change doom-and-gloom-fest. Though there was quite a bit of that. A fair amount of the exhibit just celebrated water and the life it contains, with a combination of abstract and representational work, and paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, and even some art books.
Naoe Suzuki, for example, examines inland waterways, depicting just the water, no labels, no forests, no towns or roads, in large format with blue watercolor on tea-stained paper. They could be abstractions, pictures of anything, but at the same time, they couldn’t be pictures of anything else. I liked them, along with most of the rest of the work on display.
Should You Visit Dorsky Gallery?
Dorsky is pretty small, and may not always justify even the quick-and-easy trip from Manhattan to Long Island City. I was the only visitor when I went on on a dreary weekend day; the guy minding the place cheerfully turned on the lights for me. He seemed happy to have a visitor, and to discuss the art and artists, and the place with me.
Dorsky’s curatorial approach is really interesting, and if “Wake” typifies what it puts on, I’m glad that it’s now on my cultural radar. If you’re at all interested in contemporary art, I recommend a visit. And if you’re going to PS1 anyway, it’s a simple matter to add a half hour before or after to check out this small, interesting venue.
Joseph S. Bell-Bey’s abstract acrylics were pretty cool. I particularly liked his deep blue one.
In the late 1960s a group of business and community leaders in Jamaica, Queens decided to do something to try to arrest the decline of the Jamaica Avenue shopping district. Among other strategies, they decided their neighborhood needed a new arts institution.
The City abandoning its beautiful, Italian Renaissance-style Queens Register of Titles & Deeds building around the same time created an opportunity for some adaptive reuse, and the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning was born in 1972.
Programming at JCAL heavily emphasizes the performing arts, film screenings and lectures. JCAL’s main building has a theater, and it manages a nearby church building as a converted performing arts space. Classes are also a big part of the mission, including workshops and after-school programs for kids.
John Tursi’s prolific, colorful, abstractions, en masse, amazed me.
A friend accompanied me to the Living Museum, and when Tursi asked her opinion of them, she replied unthinkingly, “This is crazy.”
I don’t believe in psychic powers. If they existed, we would have proved it by now. And yet, I can’t deny that some places have an inexplicable aura about them — a feeling indelibly embedded in the stones and bricks. Ellis Island, full of hopes and dreams from long ago. The library at Columbia, resonant with over a century of stress and study.
I mention this to set up my initial reaction to visiting the campus of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. Even just driving by Creedmoor’s forbidding deco-institutional buildings along the Grand Central Parkway, it commands attention. You may not know what it is or what goes on there, but it has a hulking presence. For lack of a better word, it’s creepy. It comes as no surprise that it is a mental hospital.
Creedmoor dates back to 1912, when an abandoned National Guard barracks was used to house a few dozen patients. At its peak in 1959, the sprawling facility housed an inconceivable 7,000 patients. Since then, the inpatient population has fallen, leading it to sell the farm (literally), and also to abandon some buildings, adding to the creepiness of the campus today. And at Creedmoor’s heart, in the ginormous former inmate cafeteria, lies the Living Museum.
In the dormant children’s garden, the sign for Egyptian walking onions, which I learned are a type of perennial onion.
This is a necessarily incomplete review. Visiting a “farm museum” in midwinter is not a recipe for seeing the place at its best, busiest, or most inviting. Indeed, I’m not sure why the Queens County Farm Museum doesn’t just shut down from December til March. But it was open and it’s on my list. So I gathered an intrepid friend and we trooped out to the far eastern fringes of Queens, where New York City blurs into Nassau County, to get the lay of the land.
I imagine this place exists mainly so that city kids can learn that chickens come in forms other than McNuggets and wool doesn’t start out life as a sweater. And I bet most visitors arrive on school buses.
The Farm in Winter
I’m sure that in more clement seasons the 40+ acres of grounds are verdant and bucolic. This time of year, not so much.
On a winter weekday, the only things to see are the livestock and some dormant farm equipment. A couple of alpacas, some goats, a few sheep, a couple of cows, and a whole flock of laying hens. Indeed on that last point, you can buy farm fresh eggs at the gift shop when it’s not winter (hens apparently don’t do much laying in cold months). You can also get farm-fresh honey and alpaca yarn at the gift shop.
As I was flying the coop a touring school group came crowding around to look at the birds. One kid asked if he could pet them, the answer to which was a resounding “no!” Chickens like to peck. And as I got further away I thought I heard a kid say “KFC! KFC!” However, I was almost out of earshot. It might have been “I can’t see! I can’t see!”
A Little History
The origins of today’s farm museum extend all the way back to an actual farm founded in 1697, though there aren’t any physical traces from that era. The grounds do still have an historic house belonging to the Adriance family, dating to just before the American Revolution.
The Adriances kept the place in their family for about a century, before it passed quickly through a succession of other farming families, and from there to the Creedmoor State Hospital, which owned and operated it from 1926 through the 1970s.
Creedmoor is a nearby psychiatric hospital associated with this and another New York museum, the Living Museum (review coming very soon). Creedmoor used the farm for rehabilitation and to grow food for patients, and flowers and ornamental plants to brighten its campus.
As Creedmoor’s population shrank, it had less need of its own farm, and so the place spun off into a museum in 1975.
Should You Visit the Farm?
The Queens County Farm Museum website claims that its receives 500,000 visitors annually, making it “the highest attended cultural institution in Queens County.” I feel skeptical about the superlative given that the borough is home to New York’s great contemporary bastion of tragedy (and occasional farce), Citifield. But it likely is the highest attendance of a Queens County museum.
Regardless of the myriads of others who go, should you?
Certainly you shouldn’t visit the farm in the dead of February. Most of the buildings are shut down, there’s no public greenhouses like the New York and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens or Wave Hill have, and the various zoos offer more convenient places to encounter a goat if you feel inclined to do that.
I felt disappointed in the place from a learning perspective; I wanted more in the way of explanatory texts. Even with fields fallow, the place could explain what farms do during the winter. But perhaps they have an awesome brochure, or do a great guides/docents/explainers program in warmer seasons. I will have to come back.
The largest downside to the Queens County Farm Museum is its location. For anyone coming from more central parts of the city it’s decidedly inconvenient. You have to really want to go (and ideally have a car).
Additionally, I didn’t see much attraction for grown-ups. Buying farmstand stuff grown right there would be neat, but New York these days is blessed with an abundance of farmers markets offering terrific produce. But I reckon the Queens County Farm Museum offers a fascinating and eye-opening experience for city kids. And New York has nothing else quite like it.
The library at King Manor houses beautiful, custom, glass-doored bookshelves and a library of 3,500 books.
I like that the museum put a statue of Rufus King there. I imagine it was his favorite room in the house.
Of all the historic houses in New York this is the only Manor. As in “Stately Wayne…” We have multiple “Houses” of course, a “Grange,” a “Birthplace,” and a “Mansion” or two. A “Homestead.” And now, a Manor.
Long Live the King
I now regret that I used “The King of Queens” in my review of Kingsland Homestead. Sea captain Joseph King was probably a fine guy, but Rufus King was far more deserving of the sobriquet.
Rufus King, owner of King Manor, served as a Major in the Continental Army, a friend to Alexander Hamilton, and a staunch abolitionist before that was fashionable. King contributed to the framing of the Constitution and signed it as a delegate from Massachusetts, his home state.
Washington wanted him in the Cabinet, but King demurred, and instead served in London as the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James. He reportedly got on well with King George III.
On his return to the States, family connections along with Hamilton persuaded him to move his household from Boston to bigger, badder New York City.
King decided that he wanted a country farm as well as a place in town, and that’s how he came to discover his house in Jamaica. He bought King Manor in 1803. King added substantially to the house he purchased, taking an asymmetrical Dutch farmhouse and making it at least faux-symmetrical, on trend with the then-current Federal style.
What with the renovations and expansion King’s family didn’t move in until 1806 or so. Hamilton was of course dead by then, so sadly never set foot in King Manor. However, King and Hamilton were so close that A.Ham was godfather to King’s eldest son.
The King family was also close with Archibald Gracie. Two King sons married two Gracie daughters. Moreover, for a short time, King held a mortgage on Gracie Mansion.
Mind Your Manors
I was the sole visitor on a random weekday afternoon. The volunteer minding the place was terrific, though, giving me a thorough and thoroughly interesting tour.
The tour takes you to the kitchen, decked out with a beautiful cast iron stove that dates from after Rufus’s day (his household cooked on an open hearth, which the stove tidily fills). Visitors also see the parlor, King’s library, and the dining room, which is complete with a trendy curved wall.
That graceful curved wall is just internal. It wouldn’t do to have a semicircular exterior wall breaking the house’s symmetry. There are two closets tucked into the odd spaces between the interior and exterior walls
King Manor doesn’t have much in the way of genuine King furnishings. It’s got some reproduction portraits. I wish it were more furnished than it is–even if the furniture is ersatz, it helps convey a sense of what life was like. It does have a genuinely old piano, and hosts concerts.
King Manor stayed in the King family until 1896, when Cornelia King, one of Rufus’s granddaughters, died. Soon thereafter the village of Jamaica bought the house and 11 acres of land to create King Park, preserving the building in its original location — a relative rarity in New York City.
Absent original fixtures and furnishings, the kitchen, parlor, and hall are given over to displays geared toward the school kids who constitute a massive proportion of visitors. Wall texts discuss Rufus King and his role in drafting the Constitution — and his opposition to the way that document basically punted on slavery, with the abolitionists among the Framers just sort of hoping it would go away on its own. One of King’s sons, John Alsop King, continued his father’s anti-slavery fight after his father died in 1827.
Another wall display discusses life in Jamaica when it was an independent village a long way from the towns of Brooklyn and Manhattan. My guide pointed out that Mr. and Mrs. King (and son John King) are buried in the churchyard of the Grace Episcopal Church just a few blocks away, so after departing King Manor I went to pay my respects.
Should you Visit the King Manor Museum?
King Manor fulfills its mandate really well. While I’m not saying “get thee to Jamaica!” if you like historic houses or founding fathers at all then you should unquestionably visit King Manor. It’s a beautiful old house, and the home of a person who turns out to be more interesting than I first expected.
My guide pointed out that King ran for president in 1816. Unsuccessfully, of course (we got Monroe instead). But not just unsuccessfully: King won only 34 electoral votes to Monroe’s 183, and put the final nail in the coffin of the Federalist party. My guide quizzed me: “In the history of the United States, two people from Jamaica have run for president. One was Rufus King. Do you know the other?” I thought a moment before suggesting, “The current president.” Yep.
His failure as a presidential candidate notwithstanding, King found many ways to serve his country during a time when his country was just being invented.
On the topic of slavery, Rufus King was ahead of his time. You can’t say that about all of his cohort. A visit to his home will acquaint you with someone who might be a B-list Founding Father, but who deserves better treatment from history, writers of hit Broadway musicals, and his adopted city.
King Park, 153rd Street and Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica, Queens
“Meeting,” an installation by light artist James Turrell. One of Turrell’s Skyspaces, it is a moderately sized, square room, featuring dark wood paneled seating, white walls and ceiling, and a square cutout open to the sky.
All you do is sit there and look at the sky thus framed, and the light patterns it casts on the walls. It shouldn’t work. I should find it boring. And yet…it’s beautiful.
The Museum of Modern Art’s satellite branch, MoMA PS1, presents contemporary art in a unique setting in booming Long Island City.
PS1 started out as the “Instute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc.” in 1971. Originally nomadic, it settled permanently in its current building in 1976. And MoMA absorbed it into its empire in 2000.
School’s In Session
Housed in a school building that dates to 1892 (“PS” in NewYork City parlance stands for “public school”) PS1 is another of New York’s examples of a masterful adaptation of an old structure to new, museum-y purposes. It’s the second schoolhouse-turned-museum I’ve visited, along with the City Island Nautical Museum.
I’m very fond of PS1’s building. A new, concrete structure houses the admissions desk and a small shop, and the concrete stretches around a courtyard with a couple of outdoor spaces, leading to the stairs into the old brick schoolhouse itself.
PS1’s interiors retain a great deal of scholastic charm, including floorplans on blackboards, institutional stairs, sections of ancient linoleum and wood floors, and desk seating in the cafe (run by trendy Brooklyn restaurant M. Wells). And light fixtures that almost certainly come from a company called, appropriately enough, Schoolhouse Electric.
Thanks to the cafe, a tantalizing bacony smell permeated much of the ground floor. Delicious if slightly distracting. I always like a building that retains enough of its original purpose that you can still feel it, at least assuming its spaces for art work well as well.
Some Permanent Art
PS1 has several permanent pieces, things that are part of the infrastructure. There’s the aforementioned Turrell Skyspace. Also multiple works in stairways, making traveling within the building a more artistic experience. I’m particularly taken with spooky tree silhouettes by Ernesto Caivano.
There’s a mysterious hole in one wall which may or may not align with astronomical phenomena. And Saul Melman gilded most of the school building’s massive original boilers, like blinged up steampunk.
Mostly, however, PS1 hosts temporary shows that MoMA doesn’t want or can’t fit in the mothership in midtown Manhattan.
Art, Angry and Baffling
The big show at PS1 currently is “Kinetic Painting,” a Carolee Schneemann retrospective. Schneeman hit it big in the 1960s as a multi-threat, with an oeuvre combining painting, sculpture (and hybrids thereof) and aggressively challenging performance pieces. Her work reminded me of lots of different things. I have in my notes:
An extremely angry Joseph Cornell
A deranged Cindy Sherman
An insane Marina Abramovic
Among other things. Not to accuse her of being derivative — Schneemann was definitely not copying anyone.
Possibly Schneemann’s most infamous piece is something called “Meat Joy.” A performance from 1964 involving several men and women in their skivvies, along with gallons of paint and assorted raw meat — fish, plucked chickens, and such. PS1 has a video. I’m not sure how much of the piece is choreographed versus improvised, but either way, it is funny, gross, and uncomfortable.
Which three words sum up my reaction to much of Schneemann’s work. I liked some of it, don’t get me wrong. But if you go, do not bring the kiddies.
The other large exhibit at PS1 currently is the work of Cathy Wilkes, which I found incomprehensible. I realize the line between “art” and “trash” hasn’t been the same since Duchamp’s famous fountain. But still.
PS1, I Love You?
Contemporary art is almost by definition challenging. I like PS1 mainly because I find the space very friendly. I guess if I’m going to be challenged by art, I’d rather be challenged in a nice, comfy place rather than someplace cool and sterile and purpose-built. (More on that when I review the New Museum.)
PS1 provides awesome spaces to display art, with a nice variety of sizes and scales to the rooms, many of which retain windows that let in tons of natural light. Visiting PS1 takes a reasonable amount of time — despite three floors plus some work in the basement, it won’t exhaust you. The cafe and bookstore there are both terrific too.
For some people, even art lovers, contemporary art can be a bridge too far. That’s perhaps why MoMA keeps this place safely across the river in Queens. Still, if you’re willing to take the plunge and have your buttons pushed, MoMA PS1 is a fantastic place to do it.
Worst case scenario, you might find something you like. And if nothing else, there’s always James Turrell’s eternal sky.
Before January, 1769 the towns of Newtown and Bushwick disputed the exact disposition of their border — and therefore the border between the counties of Kings and Queens.
A survey line finally settled the issue, and Arbitration Rock, now located on the grounds of Onderdonk House, helped mark the divide.
In the flatlands of Queens near the Brooklyn border, where hipster Bushwick transitions into less-gentrified Ridgewood, amidst warehouses and tawdry wholesalers, stands one of New York’s historic houses. Unlike several of its fellows (which tend to get moved to less valuable real estate), the Vander Ende Onderdonk House still stands on the site where it was built over 200 years ago.
Captain King’s great-grandsons, twins Ernest and Charnley Murray, also became sailors. Bearded and beret-ed in 1898, they’d fit in perfectly with the hipster denizens of today’s Bushwick or Williamsburg.
The small “Victorian” garden hosts a couple of bird feeders, a grape arbor (they freeze grapes and make grape juice for visitors all year round), a patch of lawn, and even a teensy koi pond.
I didn’t believe that they could squeeze a museum, bird sanctuary and Victorian garden onto a residential lot in Queens. I mean, two of those things, maybe. But then, I’d never been to the Voelker-Orth House.