New exhibit at QMA celebrates boro’s diversity
By Arlene McKanic 09/26/2002
“Queens International,” at the Queens Museum through Nov. 3, is huge, noisy, splashy, and exhausting. And that’s just the installation by The Flux Factory. The exhibit showcases more than 40 artists born all around the world who now call Queens home and have created art to depict their joy, affection and bewilderment.
When I entered the building, I came across a television showing “The Blame Show Queens,” by Larry Lift, where visitors to the museum were filmed kvetching about who is to blame for the current issues the United States is facing.
On a nearby wall is “Making a Mark (2002)” by C.J. Lee. The work looks sweet and childlike from afar, with spots of pastel color in little plastic grids, but when you get close you find out that it’s made of chewing gum stuck in little squares. The viewer is actually encouraged to chew one of the gumballs provided, stick the result onto a grid and sign their name. Though the gum is colorful and smushed into little shapes like stars and flowers and happy faces and has that fruity chewing gum smell about it, the idea made my stomach flip flop. “That is just gross,” I thought, moving away.
Nearby, the Flux Factory, a group of artists who work in ensemble to create their vision, had taken up a room. Theirs is a three-month installation that’s updated daily. You can find framed snatches of hair, a chap in Flux’s orange prison jumpsuit sitting on a scaffold and busily typing away an epic, a book of fingerprints, drawings Scotch-taped to a light screen and all manner of quirky interactive doo-dads. Photos adorn the walls and the floors. One of the artists stands in a wind chamber and tries to gather up pages from a dictionary and tape them to a wall. Sometimes the half dozen fans slow down enough for him to actually do this. Nearby hangs a silver bowl of “time beans” that the viewer is invited to handle. Mine read 19:37:38 p.m. in red ink.
After I escaped this chaos – not that there’s anything wrong with chaos – for the next gallery, I found some pleasant surprises. Marietta J. Ganapin, born in the Philippines, presented gorgeous, untitled mandalas made of bits from art exhibit catalogues and brochures. The paintings of her fellow Filipino Gilbert Tripllit were even more breathtaking. Made of ink, graphite and wax, they look like viruses, bacteria, protozoans and cells forming, splitting apart and migrating in huge petri dishes.
His “September Sky” refers to the Sept. 11 attacks. The explosion, made of number and dollar signs and what seem like a million red blood corpuscles dominates the top of the large painting, while at the bottom is, among other things, the face of George Washington from a dollar bill, and a stamp that says Blood Saves Lives. I lingered at Tripllit’s paintings not just because of their beauty but because I wondered how much work and concentration it took to do it all.
John Morris’ graphite works are nearly as fine as Tripllit’s, with that same focus on evolving microscopic life. A couple of the drawings are done with such a delicate hand that you must come very close to see them at all.
In another room Emily Jacir, born in the former country of Palestine, erected a refugee tent covered with the names of 418 Palestinian villages which were destroyed, depopulated and occupied by Israel in 1948. This is nice and controversial. Also part of this installation are reprinted brochures from the Pavilion of Jordan, The Holy Land, from the 1964 World’s Fair, and photos of the founders of Israel. (The museum is also fostering the Dialogue Project, where Palestinians, Jews, Israelis and other interested parties may come together to hash the mess out. Call 592-9706 x 147 if you want to participate.)
Zhang Hongtu has a lush painting of the Chinese countryside through the lens of Monet. It resembles the water lily series but also bears the wood block marks and artist’s inscription at the margins traditional to Chinese painters. In another darkened room Japan-born Rie Oishi’s clear balloons hover just above your head. They are supposed to be patterned after those thought balloons in cartoons – they’re made of one huge bubble with three smaller, graduated bubbles beneath. You’re not supposed to touch them but I couldn’t resist blowing at them a bit. They were irresistible.
Patricia Zarat, from Colombia, has “The City Visit” and “Silhouettes” on display. The first is a series of tiny, precise buildings drawn right on the wall (one of the cool things about QMA is that they let their artists draw on the walls) that reminded me of the border tapes printers used in days gone by. The other work is made of 12 framed portraits of little skylines.
Evie McKenna, originally from Pennsylvania, gives whimsical names to the house facades she has photographed. One is “Woodchuck House,” another is “Fake Furry Fence” and another is “Squashed House.” I know I’ve probably seen these houses somewhere, for only Queens has houses that look this goofy.
Zhang Hongtu returns in another room, and he has painted more Chinese landscapes, this time a la Van Gogh. They’re so like the master’s, with that violent, swirling application of paint and strong colors, that one thinks it might have helped the poor addled Dutchman if he’d spent some time in the Chinese countryside.
Close by, in the biggest gallery space, is a life-sized fighter jet that looks like it’s about to morph into a Polynesian canoe or a horizontal Pacific Northwest totem pole. This curiosity is by James Johnson and is called “Copper Airplane (1998-2001).” The name on the nose is Daughterpride. Opposite this, lining the ramp that leads to the gallery, is the mother of all hooshmis by John Norwood. Norwood was a model maker for I.M. Pei and the installation seems made up of every scrap of everything he used to build his models since 1962 – even casts of his teeth are in there. Near the end of this weirdly beautiful mess is a model under glass that shows the house he would have built, he told me, if he had Bill Gates’ money, a Shangri-La of waterfalls, pleasure pavilions, a glass-roofed mansion and guest houses tucked away among the trees.
The ramp to the second floor was so crowded that I had to go all the way back and walk around the Panorama to get there. Along the classic Queens sculpture there was video installation called “Romanticized All Out of Proportion,” by Michael Rakowitz of Great Neck. The videos were of the little buildings in the Panorama itself and played snatches of dialogue from movies like “Men In Black.” The Twin Towers are still in the diorama and when night fell over the city they were lit up brilliantly. It smacked of denial.
Upstairs hung Shawn Greene’s alternative aircraft carrier, which he converted into a park and a garden. Across from it were his watercolors of Flushing Bay and other landscapes, and an entire wall taken up by Eric Hongisto’s charming “Possibilities, Probabilities and Potentialities (2002),” which is full of colorful protozoans and chains of nucleotides that also recalled Tripllit.
Near the performance area where the group Burnt Sugar was playing some really loud and bizarre sounds hung Jaime Arredondo’s loud and bizarre orchids and roses – one of them isn’t called “Dracula” for nothing. The staff walked around with platters full of samosas and meat pies. They were hot and sent me straight to the drinks table, which was clever, as you had to give a donation for the drinks.
“Queens International” can’t possibly be seen and appreciated properly in one day, so block out a weekend or two to come and see it. No doubt it will be much less hectic, and you can enjoy the works at your leisure. Though some of the art is less than successful, “Queens International” is something you really shouldn’t miss.
The exhibit runs through Nov. 3 at the Queens Museum of Art, located in the New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
©Whitestone Times 2002