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On the Arts Beat, Of Wine and Cyanide in Queens Plaza Gentrifying Museum of Fake Art

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press: On the Arts Beat

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY, October 14 -- Getting off the N train at Queens Plaza, coming from Astoria, thank you, and not from Manhattan, there were arrows written in chalk on the sidewalk, pointing east to "MOFA." That'd be the Museum of Fake Act, an exhibit in the 20,000 square foot CivicSpace warehouse donated, as its Space's website repeats like a mantra, by "Bill Modell." While the Space's site doesn't explain, he's the chairman of Modell's Sporting Goods, who's jingle in TV ads is "Gotta go to Mo's!". So, gotta go to MOFA.

            The Space is huge, but you had to pay to get in. Fifteen dollars, to be exact, or ten dollars with student i.d.. The price seemed steep for fake art, but to review correctly, in full LIC anonymity, a decision was made not to claim press or reviewer status. The first piece involved headphones in plastic bowls on top of large wedding like cakes. This reviewer's companion, noted artist and late-night French fry eater, asked, "Can you taste it?" A watcher of the piece shook her head, pointed at other small cakes on the side which, she said, could be eaten. But that's not as fun. Which one if fake?

            Beckoning next where Christmas lights spread out on the dirty mattress of a fold-out couch. Fire hazard or symbol of self-flagellation? At least to this reviewer, the piece was reminiscent of defunct South Bronx gallery Fashion Moda's presentation of rotting tenement accoutrements as art, which left most Bronx viewers baffled and/or insulted. At the CivicSpace in a side room, bloody boot prints and the guilty Timberlands themselves. A laptop showing an image of a milk-engorged cow from behind. In the middle of the room, an atonal band played, or played at playing, with xylophone, strings and lead vocalist who paced back and forth with a microphone. There was, as advertised, free wine, poured from bottles painted gold into plastic cups, next to a tip jar.

            By now the French fry expert had enough, and went and got a refund from what can be described as a quivering hipster. "But he had wine," the woman at the door said, pointing at this reviewer. It ended up being a five dollar plastic cup of wine. But there was at least one justifying jolting piece, of crystals in Petrie dishes with a caption about a "late" doctor having progressed from a work called "Salt Lick" to a project about cyanide. "Late means he's dead," someone said. "Art is more than just ideas," snarked the French fry. In the three-way Subway-slash-chicken place under the El, the fries were short, thin and hot.

Quivering hipster in LIC CivicSpace

            The surrounding area is undergoing rapid gentrification, of which MOFA and the CivicSpace are inevitably a part. Kristina "Kristy" Schopper, co-founded of The Space in 2001, told Newsday at that time, "We don't have coffee shops. There's no place to hang out on the street." She moved to LIC in 1999, had her car broken into, hooked up somehow with Gotta Go To Mo's. Then in 2002, the Museum of Modern Art decided on Long Island City's Swingline Stapler factory for its relocation space during the three-year rehab of its East 53rd Street Manhattan headquarters. [Click here for Inner City Press' review of MoMA's screening last week of the Catalan films of Pere Portabella.]

            The rest is history. Now there's a Starbucks in Queens Plaza right under the El, and fancy apartment buildings half a block away. The United Nations will be relocating many staffers to Long Island City during the "Capital Master Plan" renovation of its 12 acre campus across the East River. Citigroup is opening a "green-certified" office tower, and the local business association is ecstatic.  Even sporting goods magnate Bill Modell never played hide the ball, so to speak. Back in 2002, he told Crain's New York Business that "the artists know they will eventually move." Soon all the real creative types will be priced out, leaving only the Fake. You can reverse-follow the arrows, but the wheels of time do not turn back.

* * *

  Question: Is the above the plan for the South Bronx?

Click here from more reviews. More seriously, or week-time work, click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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