Fast developing a reputation as an art mecca, Queens is gaining yet another world-class art institution in December.
SculptureCenter, a museum focused on contemporary sculptures, is opening on Saturday, December 14th with a gala bash to celebrate its move from Manhattan to a renovated repair shop in Long Island City.
SculptureCenter will be joining a growing list of art institutions—including MoMA QNS., Socrates Sculpture Park, and P.S.1—that make the borough their home.
“Long Island City was high on my list because of the fact that P.S.1 was already here and drawing a really large audience which was essentially an audience that we share: artists and people interested in contemporary art,” said Mary Ceruti, the executive director.
The center’s new digs, set amidst the East River waterfront’s industrial heart, at 44-19 Purves Street, were redesigned by architect Maya Lin, whose most famous commission was the design of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Once a trolley repair shop, the post-industrial red brick building now features 6,000 square feet of interior exhibition space, a sculpture library, work studio, an apartment for visiting artists, and 3,000 square feet of exhibition space outside.
SculptureCenter’s mission is unusual among major New York City institutions in that it actively encourages experimentation and fosters excellence among contemporary artists.
Its inaugural exhibit will feature works by Jimbo Blachly, a Ridgewood resident. As the recipient of the 2002 SculptureCenter Prize, he was chosen from ten artists by a panel that included established artists and a Queens Museum of Art curator.
According to Ceruti, the center’s support of emerging artists like Blachly shows that the center is seeking to become a catalyst for new ideas by providing exhibition opportunities and by educating audiences about sculpture’s relationship to other art forms.
“The prize was intended to recognize an artist who has produced a mature body of work, but hasn’t received the acclaim and the exposure that the work deserves,” she noted.
SculptureCenter was originally founded as an artists’ cooperative known as “The Clay Club” by young figurative sculptor, Dorothea Denslow in 1928, and later evolved into the non-profit organization that it is now. The group was renamed in 1944 and operated in a carriage house on Manhattan's 69th Street for a half-century before moving to Long Island City.
Today, the SculptureCenter offers programs that identify new talent, explore the conceptual, aesthetic and material concerns of contemporary sculpture, and encourage independent vision through solo exhibitions.
The artist-in-residence program, for instance, provides artists with the opportunity to develop new work over an extended period of time. The in-practice program supports artists in creating new work for exhibition.
The center’s image library includes documentation and information on over four hundred artists, and will serve as a hub for workshops, lectures, dialogues, film and video screenings, performances and publications.
Blachly’s exhibit, entitled “About 86 Springs,” explores the landscapes of natural wells and springs, and was inspired by the book, “Springs and Wells of Manhattan and the Bronx: New York City at the End of the Nineteenth Century” by James Reuel Smith.
Before New York City received water piped from the upstate reservoirs of the Catskill Mountains, residents got their drinking water like anyone else at the turn of the 20th century: from natural wells and springs.
Over the past 18 months, Blachly visited those now-unused water sources documented by Smith, and drew them, using his own photographs as well as those in Smith’s book.
Still being completed in the days leading up to the grand opening, the exhibit is organized around a series of moss terrariums, connected by a circulating twisting water trough. Small and medium-sized replicas of the wooden structures that protected them, as depicted in the book, will be interspersed throughout the twisting trough. Two to three life-sized sculptures of these wooden structures will be constructed at the museum for inclusion in the exhibit.
“I wanted to find a project that had to do with exploring New York in some way. It has more to do with your own emotional investment with nature being in the world. It’s carved with my own personal experience. I’m not just commenting from an objective position,” Blachly said.
SculptureCenter will open its doors on Saturday, December 14th, from noon to 6 p.m., followed by an artist’s reception from 7 p.m. to midnight. All events are open to the public.
After that, SculptureCenter’s viewing hours will be Thursday though Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a suggested donation. Call the SculptureCenter at 361-1750 for more information.