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Queens Chronicle

From an ‘airplane hangar’ to art space

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Posted: Thursday, October 28, 2010 12:00 am

It may look like an airplane hangar now, but when the expanded space at the Queens Museum of Art opens in a couple of years it will be filled with paintings, sculpture and other artistic installations.

That’s the promise made last week by QMA Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl as construction continues on the $50 million expansion at Flushing Meadows Park. An additional 105,000 square feet of space became available when the World’s Fair Ice Rink, attached to the museum, moved to a new facility on the other side of the park last year.

“It will double the size of the museum,” Finkelpearl said. “Actually, the space will more than double because the New York City Panorama is huge and is in the center of the museum.”

Because that attraction from the 1964 World’s Fair cannot be moved, the museum must work around it, he noted, adding, “But the Panorama is our pride and joy.”

Although the official groundbreaking for the project will be held in the near future, Finkelpearl said preliminary work has been underway for six months, including some demolition and asbestos removal. He is hoping the enlarged facility will be finished in 2012.

The museum is not expected to close for any major period of time during construction. “If you want to keep your audience, don’t close, is the advice we were given and we will keep it open,” the executive director said.

He noted attendance at QMA is “the best ever,” up 21 percent with 220,000 people visiting last year.

The reconfigured art museum will have new galleries, performance spaces, educational studios, a cafe and storage areas. The exterior will be dramatically changed.

There will be a second entrance added on the Grand Central Parkway side of the building. Finkelpearl thinks its drab exterior and lackluster appearance was a poor advertisement for the institution.

The new design features a glass wall with the name of the museum etched in different languages. It is believed the added light will brighten the interior and offer another point of entry for the public.

The east facade, facing the Unisphere, will also offer additional natural night by using more glass. Three middle bays will be opened, making it more accessible to the public.

One special amenity that Finkelpearl hopes will happen is the addition of a Queens Library branch in the museum. “It’s very much on the table and we’re working on it,” he said. “It would be a branch with a focus on arts and culture.”

The art deco building was constructed as the New York City Pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair and is the only major building in the park still standing from that era.

It later was used by the Parks Department, including its chief, Robert Moses. From 1946 until 1952 the facility served as the headquarters for the United Nations. It was here that the state of Israel was born, India became independent and the republic of Korea organized.

The building was reused for the 1964 World’s Fair, with the addition of the Panorama. It simulated a helicopter ride over a scale-model of the city. Ice shows, produced by Olympic figure skater Dick Button at the rink were also a popular attraction during the fair.

The ice rink opened to the public after the U.N. moved and at that time included a roller rink on one side, but it was eliminated years ago.

The other side of the building became home to the museum in 1972. In 1994, a major redesign was finished that changed the interior space and modernized the front entrance.

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