New York Adventures (#3): Astoria/Long Island City

I guess I’ve always had a secret snobby attitude towards Queens. I’ve always felt it’s barely a step above Staten Island, without the hardcore street cred of the Bronx.

But here I am: Astoria resident. My time here has an expiration date, so I might as well explore.

I started with a walk straight down Broadway, sixteen blocks from my apartment into Long Island City to the Noguchi Museum. Though I got confused by the museum website’s directions, and momentarily panicked that I was lost and would have to apprentice myself to one of the automotive shops toppling over each other in the area, I finally found the Noguchi tucked away on a side street. First Fridays of the month are pay-what-you-can. Score.

I had stumbled on the Noguchi as I researched Astoria/LIC, and all I knew was that it was dedicated to one artist’s abstract sculpture. I’m always up for something that expands my definition of art.

Perhaps I have too many museum expectations due to my extreme exposure and faux-pretentiousness. At first I had a problem with the Noguchi. No audioguides to explain what the heck these honking slabs of rock meant? Okay, fine, it’s a tiny museum in LIC. I imagine most artists would be loathe to have their work explained in two minute soundbytes anyway.

But…

Is it necessary to send patrons on a scavenger hunt to determine even the sculptures’ titles? Each room had a box of laminated cards naming each piece, but there was no marker on the work to align them easily. You literally had to study the card (line drawings of these three dimensional stone and steel behemoths) then circumnavigate the work to match up an angle with a picture.

That’s a lot of work. And once you found the proper title, it didn’t often illuminate much about its creator’s intentions (The Seeker Sought? Brilliance? And the recurring, Untitled?)

This one is called "Resonance." My favorite word, but it didn't, for me.

This one is "Venus." Really?

Eventually, I let go of expectations and allowed myself a visceral reaction to the work. Sculpture is still fairly unexplored territory for me, but my encounters with Bernini and Michelangelo had an impact. At the Noguchi you can get up close and personal to the sculptures, existing fully in their space, separated by neither ropes nor high pedestals. You experience their full three dimensionality – and isn’t that the point and beauty of sculpture?

It may have been a perverse reaction to all the “Please Do Not Touch the Sculptures” signage, or the sheer puzzle of complicated textures, but I really, REALLY wanted to touch the work. I didn’t react emotionally to the shapes, their impersonal, intellectual blobishness. But there is something fascinating about marble, so perfectly smooth yet so heartlessly cold.  (I think the marble shifted my feelings on Noguchi. Though abstract, I could relate them to Renaissance Italy and given them a context.) Some sculptures were basalt, or granite, some buffed to a shiny polish, while others were rawer, more natural. Most were a combination of finished and rough. I found it hard to resist feeling for myself the competing textures that existed within a single piece of rock.

I’m a fan of art so alive you want to touch it.

I often wonder how prepared one needs to be to appreciate art. Should one study an artist’s biography? Should one be able to place the work within a movement? Is knowledge power? Would you like the art better if you understood where it was coming from? Or is your gut reaction, positive or negative, enough to evaluate a life’s work?

These are questions I struggle with. Modern art is opaque to me, and I wish I understood – or even felt – it better.

Soothing space

Still, the open rooms, blank walls, and freestanding, inscrutable sculptures – free even of explanations – had a zen feeling. I don’t know if Noguchi was influenced by Buddhism, but I left feeling provoked but serene, as if the whole world, even in its abstraction, even if I don’t understand it, just might be beautiful.

I headed back up Broadway and crossed the invisible line into Astoria to meet a friend at a local hole-in-the-wall coffee shop called NYC Love Street Coffee. The coffee was quite good (much better than Starbucks’ charriness) and I had a goat cheese panini that was delicious and cheap. It’s subway and apartment convenient. Sweet.

We walked to the Museum of the Moving Image, free after 4pm on Fridays – wheeee! We studied the Jim Henson exhibit, which was great, although, my inner museum snob thinks it could have been better.  For a guy who worked with three dimensional puppets and on TV and film, the exhibit could have been a little more interactive, a little less flat drawings, and a little more informative (they don’t explain where the word “Muppet” originated, or how Henson actually started making his puppets.)

I’m nit-picking.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Who doesn’t love Muppet lore? It’s like a museum hug. By this point in the day I was exhausted so we simply wandered the exhibits. I believe I will frequent it…frequently, given its proximity to my apartment and my gaping, unsophisticated love of movie magic.

The best part of living in New York City? Whatever you’re craving can be delivered to your door in thirty minutes. I had heard good things about Euro Delights on Broadway, a restaurant that specializes in crepes. After a busy day I didn’t feel like eating out, so I went home and ordered online. Being indecisive, I couldn’t choose between a sweet or savory crepe…so I got both (well-balanced, kids, that’s what I am.) I got the Euro Delights Special: cheese, mushrooms, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, and caramelized onions; and La Promenada: Nutella and peanut butter.

yummy.

Crepes are just stuffed pancakes, and there’s nothing I love more than pancakes. I want to try everything on the Euro Delights menu, and anticipate many happy returns eating there.

I can’t wait to eat my way through Astoria and explore what’s within walking distance of my apartment. Sometimes laziness backflips into the joy of discovering local treasures.

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Categories: New York City, Travel Musings | 1 Comment

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One thought on “New York Adventures (#3): Astoria/Long Island City

  1. nadine

    fun stuff! sometimes the best things are right in front of you!

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