Being big can have its problems, ones which the Queens Museum of Art, scheduled to double in size in the next few years, is excited to contend with, according to Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl.
With potentially devastating budget cuts to the museum averted, Finkelpearl was happy to focus on the future as he surveyed construction on a former ice-rink which, by the sound of buzzing saws and the smell of melting steel, should be part of the museum in no time.
In the midst of growth, museum Curator Larissa Harris decided to investigate size and scale from both a theoretical and physical perspective in the museum’s latest exhibit, “The Curse of Bigness.”
Gaining its title from a 1914 essay by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis about the rise of monopolies, the exhibit fills the museum with art that is as relevant today as it will likely be when attempting to categorize our historical moment in the future — as big business helped give rise to one of the sharpest economic downturns in American history.
Opening in 1972 on what was once the World’s Fair grounds, the museum is itself steeped in large-scale history. In the museum gift shop, volunteer Shirley Yourman sings along to Frank Sinatra. Behind her is memorabilia from the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, both of which she attended. “The problem is, neither of them made any money,” she said.
The mixed blessing of bigness looms large in the museum, which thrives off what bigness hath wrought, occupying a building constructed for the 1939 fair, but also existing in its historical shadow.
Across from the shop, Tara De Long’s edgy music video “B-U-S-I-N-E-S-S” is projected on a wall painted like a TV monitor and labeled “Mony.”The video captures the zeitgeist so well, that if one were to make a time capsule illustrating the current financial crisis, it might be included. “Did Christmas come a little too late?” she asks rhetorically in a catchy schoolyard- style chant.
Harris has also selected a series of dioramas by the artist collective Great Small Works, illustrating different historical moments on miniature stages. Complete with red curtains, as part of their work “The Toy Theater of Terror as Usual,” the group uses newspaper cutouts to depict historical events including the AIDS crisis and the beginning of the Gulf War. The tiny theaters are displayed along a path encircling the museum’s well-known panorama, depicting a miniature, scale version of the entire city.
Harris said that at the show’s opening, artist Jessica Rylan, who had constructed a scale model of the Queens Museum to fit inside the panorama’s current Queens Museum, inserted another “microscopic” invisible Queens Museum to the already existing ones “to much adulation.”
Pencil scribble on the museum’s wall shows calculations Rylan allegedly used to construct her models.
In another room, video footage of robots in different battle situations produced by Survival Research Laboratories plays and newsprint-style announcements of their performances is pasted to an adjacent wall. The group, founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1978, views its work as social satire. Perhaps all work in the exhibit could be categorized as such.
‘The Curse of Bigness’
When: Wednesday-Sunday 12-6 p.m. Free screenings and musical performances on Fridays in July and August.
Where: Queens Museum of Art, Flushing Meadows Corona Park