Day Trip: To Long Island City We Go!

Above the blood-fueled, studio-crowded West Egg of Williamsburg; across the river from the moneyed, art-bedecked walls of Upper East Egg—er, the Upper East Side—there is a certain Valley of Ashes of the New York art world: Long Island City. Like Gatsby and his crew, we spent a warm day passing through this district to see what it offered for the spectacle-loving art tourist. Can the dubious Wikipedia claim that the L.I.C. has one of the highest concentrations of art in the city be true? What is a MoMA PS1, exactly? Is it as crowded and inhospitable as its parent institution? And what else is there? This is the first of what will be a series of Artparasites Day Trips. Come along, old sport!

PS1: These Eyes See Everything

If we extend the Gatsby comparisons much further than they ever should be, then MoMA PS1 is the T.J. Eckleburg of the New York art world. These eyes see everything, hovering over all the wild antics of art in the present day and quietly passing judgment. (And if there is a tragic death beneath these eyes, it’s the horse once served at the built-in M. Wells Dinette—although we hear horse is quite a delicacy).

 We visited PS1 previously for the “Now Dig This!” exhibition of “Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-80, finding it dark, deep, rich and haunting. Now, and through the rest of the summer, PS1 has shifted from retrospection to speculation with its “EXPO 1” exhibition. It features art that confronts what is shaping to be the two most determinant factors of our future: the environment and technology. The former is featured more prominently, given the most actual space in the weird building of PS1 (sidenote: if MTV and PBS would ever like to do a mash-up show of “Fear” and “Art21,” this would be the perfect place to do it.) 

The latter—the technology stuff—I found more interesting on first-pass, although I’m still not sure how “right” that opinion is, given PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach’s very active, and unquestionably important, service to Hurricane Sandy relief. But maybe there’s a happy medium between the two. While we're in the topic, let's talk nature:

Two visitors enjoying the illusion of nature created by Meg Webster's Pool. Photo: Chris Robinson

Perhaps the reason the environmental works seemed unremarkable to me at first is that they are so “natural.” That is, at certain points the gallery space falls away and it’s like you’ve come upon a nice but expected vista on a nature hike. Meg Webster’s Pool (commissioned in 1998, reinstalled for the first time for this exhibition) is the best example of this. An actual pond ecosystem has been created in the gallery, including wildlife, plants, and a flowing water stream.

Olafur Eliasson's "Your Waste Of Time" at PS1. Photo: Chris Robinson

Compare this to Olafur Eliasson’s Your Waste of Time—an installation of actual fragments of Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull (thank you, CTRL+C, for preventing an embarrassing botch of that name) in a below-freezing refrigerated room of PS1. Both use incredible mechanisms of technology and design to achieve in a gallery space what occurs without any human intervention in nature. They are meant to be unremarkable, in some way of nature, but they also require a kind of contemplation that may be weak in the modern viewer (i.e. me); an old-fashioned awe at the sublimity of our world, combined with our familiar awe at technological mastery—exactly the intersection that “EXPO 1” hopes to cultivate in a viewer.

The Man-Machines

Then there is the room of pure technological gadgetry, “ProBio.” Roomba-like little robots crawl across the floor. A giant screen of Times-Square-like video bulbs projects a singing woman. The most bizarre and interesting piece, I thought, was the Emerging Artist video by DIS (if you aren’t already following @dismagazine on Instagram, please pause reading this to do that). Three extremely-pregnant-looking women rub their stomachs and each others’ stomachs over the few-minute video loop:

"Emerging Artist" from DIS Magazine on Vimeo.

Keep in mind that what looks merely strange on the Internet feels much weirder in a gallery of one of the leading art institutes in the world. As the video makes clear—if the title of the module, “ProBio” hadn’t already—the focus is on technology and human nature. “ProBio” purports to promote a “dark optimism” about a future where “genes become open source,” and “biology becomes software,” but maybe the scariest thing is how cool it all looked!

The bizarro techno wonderland of ProBio. Photo: Chris Robinson

Wrapping up the Artparasites Day Trip—sitting and sweating on the concrete steps of PS1, thinking about how tasty horse meat would be at the moment—we are sorry to say that we have underestimated Long Island City, this Valley of Ash (we didn’t learn our lesson from the book or movie, obviously). There is a lot more—too much more—even to PS1 than this; not even to begin with the wider L.I.C. So we’ll sit on the steps and point you to where you should go next.

After walking around the galleries of “EXPO 1,” stop in at one of the many talks being held (Marina Abramovic! Agnes Denes! DJ /rupture!) at the “School” module of the exhibition. Then cross the street to check out the funky Space Womb Gallery. Remember that great graffiti place we were telling you about, 5 Pointz? It’s just around the corner! Oh, and that elegant, cavernous SculptureCenter we visited a bit ago? You guessed it—it’s around another corner nearby too! Yes, you go out and visit all of those things and tell us how they are. We think there is some foie gras that needs us here.

Article by Chris Robinson