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The Queens Museum of Art is doubling in size with its expansion set to open this October, and seems to be countering that growth by halving the words in its name down to the succinct Queens Museum. Despite already inhabiting the grand space of the New York City Building from the 1939 World’s Fair, the $68 million expansion project is bringing its total space to 105,000 square feet. In comparison, the Brooklyn Museum is 560,000 square feet, and the Metropolitan Museum is more than 2,000,000, so it will still be something of a welterweight on the local museum scene, although it will bring it closer to the space capabilities of an institution like MoMA PS1, which is at 125,000 square feet.
Over the phone, Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, said the goal was to provide adequate space for their cramped education programming, and also to expand their interactions with their current audience and entice a new visitors to make the train trip out to Flushing from the other boroughs. “Given the location and given the fact that people spend half and hour to 45 minutes to get here, there has to be enough stuff to do, and we need a bigger museum to attract people from a larger radius,” he says.
The expansion project, which broke ground on April 12, 2011, was designed by Grimshaw, a “high-tech architecture” firm responsible for such futuristic structures as the Eden Project cluster of domes and the EMPAC arts center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. It includes new galleries, studios, and other event and visitor spaces, as well as a grand entrance on the Grand Central Parkway side with a new glass façade on which art can “adhere.”
“You always feel like you’re coming in the side door of the Queens Museum right now,” Finkelpearl said, referring to the current entrance from a small adjoining parking lot. “So there’s something of the soaring nature of the architecture that changes the way psychologically that you enter the museum. … [The building] was built for the World’s Fair, and people came in the center facing the unisphere, so we’re restoring that entrance into the center of the building, which is the original intent of the architecture.”
The area the expansion takes over was formerly a hockey ring, and it will have towering 40-foot ceilings and grand columns. Historic features like the Robert Moses “Panorama” from the 1964 World’s Fair will remain unchanged. The first exhibitions and performances in the expanded museum will be incredibly eclectic, with Pedro Reyes’s mock United Nations The People’s UN (pUN), the Sixth Queens International Biennial, the self-referential The New York City Building on the museum’s home with Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao, and giant political puppets in Bread and Puppet Theatre’s Peter Schumann’s Black and White.
“The thing that we’re trying to do here is to be very local and very international at the same time, and that’s a very Queens thing to do,” Finkelpearl said.