An ice sculpture of Buddha in a freezer. A 12-foot tower of donated clothes. Bicycles hanging from a wall.
When curators Erin Sickler and José Ruiz of the Queens Museum of Art were putting together the submissions for the “Queens International 4” biennial exhibit, they did not have to look very far to get a vast and diverse sample of work.
Even though the group of 42 artists and artist collectives hail from 18 different countries and craft works that are vastly different, they do have one thing in common: they all live in Queens.
This is the fourth iteration of the exhibit, said Sickler. The museum received more than 400 submissions for the growing biennial exhibit that has become known for showcasing the artists of the most diverse county in the nation.
Sickler said the diversity of the show and the artists was natural, given the population of Queens, and that she wanted to get away from “a heavy-handed approach to diversity.”
“It's natural that it happened,” she said, referring to the range of countries and people who are represented.
The curators chose works that they thought were the strongest overall. Sickler also said she enjoyed the challenge of putting together a show where the works would be readable and accessible to the population of Queens, while still reflecting the dialogues going on in the art world.
Sin-ying Ho, one artist whose work is featured in the show, said the exhibit is an exciting showcase of the multicultural fabric of the borough. Her work in ceramics also highlights her international heritage.
Ho, who teaches ceramics at Queens College, was born in Hong Kong and infuses traditional Chinese porcelain painting into her work, as well as modern images from her life.
She said the mix between the traditional and modern, and between East and West, are symbolized in her work. The symbols represent the challenges she faced learning English as a second language and the intricacy of the symbolic language every human uses to communicate.
Another artist, Ryan Humphrey, challenged the traditional notion of what belongs in a museum. Humphrey created a massive installation with BMX bikes and ramps, and had retired BMX world champion Dizz Hicks perform for the opening of the museum.
Humphrey said his goal is to make the “alternate universes” of BMX riding and art museums collide. He wanted to bring the energy and spirit of BMX into the “clean white box” of the museum space.
“I want the work to be something that people live with and have real-life experiences associated with it,” he said. Both art and BMX riding have been a part of Humphrey's life since he was a child, and helped him through challenging times.
As for diversity, Humphrey said that Queens is one of the last strongholds in New York where “really interesting stuff is happening.” He said his work does not directly reflect the diversity in the borough, but is definitely a part of it.
Justine Reyes, a photographer, said her work is highly personal and deals with ideas of identity. Reyes completed a series of portraits of her uncle, who has lived in Queens for over 40 years. The exhibit showcases nine portraits of her uncle in the same pose, wearing one of his many signature guayabera shirts.
Her portraits are not glamour shots, she said, and some highlight the veins and imperfections of her sitters. She purposely made the images darker and bluer in tint to give them a varnished and painterly feel.
She is grateful that her family members have been willing to “give me so much license to use their images,” she said.
One of the benefits of the exhibition for Reyes was learning what other local artists are doing.
“Queens is so big and spread out and diverse,” she said. “It's harder to create community in the borough” among artists, unlike in smaller artistic communities, such as those in Chelsea or Brooklyn.
For Omar Chacon, mixing cultures is as intrinsic to his work as mixing paints. An Astoria resident and Columbian native, Chac—n said culture is highly important to his work. The inspiration for one of his paintings on display was a Hugo Chavez protest. His work is nonrepresentational, and consists of many bright colors poured next to each other and applied to the canvas.
Chacon said that many aspects of culture have inspired his art, from the Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico to Korean barbecue.
Sickler said she has seen several interesting themes emerge from the works at the show. One is that many of the artists have been working in more than one medium, including repurposing objects from the world around them.
“Somehow a lot of it just comes together,” she said.
“Queens International 4” runs through April 26 at Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. For more information, visit queensmuseum.org.