Culture On the Good Side Of The East River
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Screw all of those folks from the east side of the East River who walk around with their noses pointing 12 degrees skyward.
First of all, Angela, my new progressive editor, told me I could use the word “screw.” That’s not the word I actually inquired about. Actually, I knew I couldn’t use the one I threw out at her — it’s not that we won’t print it, it’s that we won’t print it just to get reaction. In a quote, or when no other word can express appropriately what an expletive can, we will and have printed, one of George Carlin’s “seven words.”
But I guess you can clearly understand where I’m coming from without resorting to the more vulgar, but uniquely descriptive term.
Civic Virtue, this classical sculpture that features a a very proud, naked young man with two naked young women — named “Corruption” and “Vice” — grabbing at his feet, caused the wrath of women’s groups ever since it first appeared in City Hall Park in 1922. Tired of public pressure, the City fathers – those Manhattan-centric snooty folks – solved the problem in 1941, simply by moving it to Queens. Beep Helen Marshall said early in her tenure that she’d like to “do something about” the sculpture, but you can still view Civic Virtue right outside of Queens Borough Hall.
Tribune photo by Angela Montefinise
The Tribune this week ventured into the world of art and culture to bring you a comprehensive guide to the offerings of our borough — the rich and varied offerings of our rich and varied home.
In the process, we reached out to the “culture keepers” — those folks, who by virtue of their positions, are responsible for monitoring, offering, keeping, displaying, funding and encouraging the community to share its ideas and expressions.
Our editor, Angela Montefinise, was doing the piece you’ll find in this book (that’s what I call our bound glossy-covered efforts) on “public art.” In the process, she reached out to the newest “icon” of art in our borough, MoMA — the Museum of Modern Art.
These are the Manhattan folks who for sometime have been overseeing P.S.1: the Long Island City world-class contemporary art center recognized for its cutting edge approach to exhibitions and involvement with artists.
Most recently, when their Manhattan palace was closed for major renovation, they opened MoMA QNS and helped move Long Island City further into the forefront of the art world.
So, Angela called MoMA and asked the woman who answered the phone if there were any experts there who could comment on public art — that was her topic of the moment.
The woman responded, “I don’t think we comment on anything if it doesn’t have to do with
MoMA, but I’ll check.”
A few minutes later she returned and said, “So this is public art in general? Because we don’t comment if it’s not something to do with
So Angela responded with, “But I’m looking for something really general, like how public art fits into the rest of the art world or why it’s important.”
The MoMA spokesperson insisted, “I’m sorry, but we really don’t like to talk about things that don’t have to do with
After exchanging thank yous, Miss MoMA said, “OK, now. Bye bye. Good luck.”
That’s when Angela typed underneath her notes on her computer screen – “F#?#! you, snobby bitch.”
But then Angela explains to me: “But that’s off the record.”
(Angela, lesson 3, you can’t go off the record after you say something; it must be before you say it.)
I’m sure Angela (and her family) won’t be happy to see their little girl using profanity, but they need not fear. Angela is a properly cultured, young lady from Queens. And Angela’s reaction to the tone of the MoMA lady, ”I’m sorry, but we really don’t like to talk about things that don’t have to do with
MoMA,” was quite appropriate.
I can even hear her damn voice and intonation without ever speaking to Miss
Yes, friends, there is a difference between Manhattan and Queens people. Now, that doesn’t mean that all Manhattan people are stuck up and all Queens people are down to earth, but invariably, you can sort them by a taste test.
Queens people can appreciate what their borough has to offer and likewise can appreciate the cultural and lifestyle riches of Manhattan.
Manhattan people can appreciate what their borough has to offer.
That’s not universal. But it is the reason the MoMA chose Long Island City as its temporary home – their precious art wouldn’t be too far into Queens.
Actually, the MoMA attitude towards Queens is a lot deeper and uglier than the snooty spokesperson or the selection of the Western border of Queens would reveal.
The true tale was uncovered more than five years ago by the Tribune on April 30, 1998 with a dramatic front-page story entitled: “MOMA in a COMA.”
I remember the story: there was outrage on the part of Queens officials that the city was giving $65 million to MoMA for its expansion while Queens cultural institutions were facing dramatic cuts.
But that was the small story.
Queens Tribune, April 30, 1998: “As part of a $65 million grant from the city, the Museum of Modern Art
(MoMA) will be bringing paintings like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” to Queens. Sadly, no one will be able to see them. They will be locked away from view in a state-of-the-art warehouse.”
The initial MoMA plans called for the Queens facility to serve as a warehouse with little or no exhibition space. Their art would be in Queens; you just couldn’t see it!
In 1998 their spokesperson, who did talk, told the Trib that they were doing Queens a favor since a warehouse would require art handlers, preservationists, and movers — benefiting Queens by creating jobs in our borough.
But the concept of placing the art on view for the people of Queens was never part of their original plans.
And so, in microcosm, you have the story of New York City — a Manhattan-centric intellectual oligarchy with lots of
money, very little soul and no appreciation of people.
MoMA, welcome to Queens.
While we’re looking at your art, you should look at our people.
You could learn something.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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