Category Archives: Queens

Queens, New York City, Travel, Long Island City, Ridgewood, Art, Culture

Robot Art and Soccer

For those of you just tuning in, I am currently lost in the great industrial hallways of Long Island City. Though, after two hours of meandering, I was starting to get a little tired and  asked directions from one of the few human beings I had seen thus far. 21st Street (where I got off the train), he informed me, was about a mile away, exactly back in the direction I came. But did I follow these directions? Or did I get distracted by, say, the Guatemalan National Anthem emanating from a public park with a Caterpillar backhoe in the center?

When I got there (obviously I didn’t follow direction people, come-on) I found these guys :

About a hundred in all, they waited impatiently for their soccer season to start while the MC went through all the people to thank and all national anthems of the players. Mothers handed off babies to the uniformed husbands for snack runs. Stray soccer balls from the next generation of players veered between the lines. Nevertheless, the MC was adamant in his duties and in about twenty minutes I was getting a little antsy myself. But there was a novelty to consider: the “field” was a disused concrete basketball court. Besides, I had started chatting with the only other English speaker in the crowd – Doug, from Canada (he came up with the nomenclature). Apropos of last post about LIC re: yet more gentrification, Doug  had a home renovation business and had just been with clients looking to upgrade their condo. Despite going through our abbreviated life stories, a few jokes, and wonderment at the soccer players’ dedication to the game given their playing surface, the MC was still going. Wait!  He’s handing the mic off….no. More speeches. Doug and I went our separate ways with promises of FaceBook friendship. One thing I will mention before leaving this scene however – given the skill of the kids practicing while they waited for their fathers to start, in about ten years American soccer won’t be so import dependent. So keep practicing! There’s only 3 World Cups before you have to be ready!

Now, from my last visit a few years ago, I had a vague memory of what P.S. 1 looked like. Yes, yes I know. That structure and all the art that it holdeth should be emblazoned on my brain. However, not so much. But I was pretty sure this was it as I approached a enormous red-brick building in a sea of cement. The diligent security guard informed me, kind of – I had to go around to the front. This last hurdle jumped, I entered the rather prison-like  courtyard,

one of my favorite parts of the museum. No really. It’s a mostly blank space void of visual stimulus before entering the world of over-stimulus. Moreover, you have a choice to walk on the gravel, or the sidewalk. The sidewalk may have been placed their for handicap access – but it still gives you the choice to interact with the gravel – which creates both texture and sound – or walk dolefully on the concrete.  Brilliant.

Less brilliant was the sign in the front lobby informing me I couldn’t take pictures of the artwork. No matter. I decided to take pictures of things that were not art like this:

and this:

hoping to get in trouble so as to have more to write about. No such luck. The one security guard who did catch me, who shall remain nameless, gave me a momentary scolding and told me I’d have to get a press pass if I wanted to take photographs. But then, without my protesting even a little, he said, “Go ahead. Whatever.” But, I had already told him I was doing an “art project” about things in museums that were not art and didn’t want to blow my cover.

Unfortunately, about 75% of the museum was closed due to installation. So, I spent a lot of quality time in the video art room – a medium I wasn’t  particularly keen on – until now – thanks to Rosum’s Universal Robots.

This guy is from a 1930s film adaptation of Czech science fiction writer,  Karel Capek’s play about robots taking over the earth (among other things, like um, socialism). That, I assure you, has nothing on the video at PS 1. First of all, it’s not a play – it’s a ballet. A robot ballet with amazing robot costumes – think robot tutu – and  sets built by the incredible Frederick Kiesler. I was mesmerized throughout. If anyone out there in cyberland knows were to get a copy of this cultural gem – let me know!

To conclude, I will just mention that I passed by the soccer game on my way back. They were just getting started.

Next New York City neighborhood: City Island. Where’s that?


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Long Island City, yo

The main advantage I have as an urban spelunker is that I have absolutely no sense of direction. This may seem counter-intuitive, but I assure you, it is not. When I disembarked again from the trusty G train in Long Island City, I had every intention of going to P.S. 1 – the famed contemporary art center housed, as the name suggests, in New York City’s fist public school.

According to the map I had drawn before hand, I was just a block from there and so headed in what I supposed to be the right direction. I went the exact wrong way. However, this, shall we say, detour, took me to streets I otherwise wouldn’t  have ventured down.

Long Island City is neither a city, nor is it on Long Island. However, at one time it was a city with a mayor by the name of Patrick Jerome “Battle-Axe” Gleason. Take that Jackie. Now, Long Island City is a neighborhood in Queens, just north of Brooklyn on the East River. Originally an industrial area with warehouses galore, it seems destiny that it should find its next form as home for artists and tag-along yuppies who like their luxury condo balconies with a view of the Manhattan skyline. To be fair, it is quite a view, and one that’s often bettered by what lies in the foreground.

But, there is something to be said for the aesthetics of industrialism. Take for instance this water tower and smoke stack.

or this fire escape

Neither would one call pretty. But they are interesting, beautiful even almost in their lines, in the unexpected dash of yellow in the latter, in the lack of color and rigid form juxtaposed with the blue sky in the former. More than this the aesthetics of industrialism allows, if not creates, a healthy sense of solipsism (healthy, at least, for artists). Walking around the industrialized zone of LIC it’s easy to get the idea that the world is blank, empty and waiting desperately to be filled. Don’t believe me? Check out the courtyard in front of P.S. 1:

Yes, I finally found it

Soccer on Concrete

If that’s not an industrial space, I don’t know what is. More on what’s inside later this week along with these guys:


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