This past weekend, OHNY intern Kelly got a look at the end of the Civic Action exhibit at the Noguchi Museum. Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City is a creative and visionary artistic and architectural response to the threats to the vital character of this Queens neighborhood, situated at the border of Long Island City and Astoria. Recently, the open spaces, artist studios, residences, and waterfront spaces have been encroached upon by large-scale building projects that have rejected zoning regulations. The Civic Action project, a collaboration between The Noguchi Museum and the Socrates Sculpture Park, invited four artists, Natalie Jeremijenko, Mary Miss, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and George Trakas and their teams to create environmental, housing, industry, and artistic solutions to preserving the livability and liveliness of Long Island City.

The Civic Action project just completed its initial phase in the Noguchi Museum, where the surprisingly realistic but radically visionary projects of the four artists above were able to pose their ideas for environmental and cultural change and community-preservation. An appropriate space for this exhibition, the Noguchi Museum is the first museum in America opened by a living artist to exhibit his or own work. Isamu Noguchi, Japanese American sculptor and landscape architect who was well known for his public works, maintained studios in both New York and Japan during his lifetime. His works are spaced out in peaceful, empty spaces in various industrial looking rooms. The most intriguing piece I found while exploring the many rooms and the garden was the 1979 basalt piece pictured above entitled “To Bring to Life”.

“A museum is, I suppose, a repository against time. Fragile objects need protection, but even without this need there is a semblance of eternity, a sense of permanence that is implied by a museum, and a removal from time’s passage. Is it the enclosure, roofed or unroofed, that creates this impression?”

–Isamu Noguchi

Entering each different room, I noticed that the stone cells in which the larger pieces reside on the ground floor each have a unique feel and resonate with a different energy, but each room also holds a sense of stillness and atemporality.

Above, this granite piece, “Vertical View” sits across from a piece originally designed to be a Memorial for the Dead of Hiroshima, which Noguchi was asked to build in 1952, in a room which complicates and enhances the feeling of being outside time that the rest of the museum embraces. The Memorial piece, which was never installed as a Memorial in Hiroshima, is shown below.

In the museums largest space, I came across this unique piece pictured below, one of only two I came across in the museum to involve water. “The Well: Variation on a Tskubai,” created in 1982 is made of basalt, and draws inspiration from the stone water basins provided for visitors’ purification entering Japanese Buddhist temples.

Upstairs, looking down onto the garden area, I found myself in a peaceful room with wooden floors, in which I found many of Noguchi’s smaller sculptures and pieces that interact with the boundaries of the room, such as this intriguing 1962 piece, entitled “Floor Frame,” which appears to have partially disappeared into the floorboards.

In addition to the works preserved in his museum, Noguchi’s belief in works of social significance lead him to produce large-scale public works all over the world that engage with the social atmosphere, political issues and time in which he created them, preserving these significant moments or social feelings in stone, or embodying and enabling a new moment in which to envision ourselves.

Isamu Noguchi’s active engagement in the social and cultural realm makes the Noguchi Museum the perfect setting for the first half of Civic Action. Above, inside the Museum’s classroom I came across an invitation to the public to participate in a re-envisioning of Long Island City by posting their ideas on a large map of the city on the wall.

While exploring the upstairs rooms, I got a glimpse of the artists’s contributions to the Civic Action project. In the image above, Mary Miss, whose work deals in the realms of sculpture, installation art, architecture and landscape design, has sketched an interactive, 3-dimensional room “Ravenswood/City as Living Laboratory” where visitors can see and read about ideas for the reversal of the destruction of the environment and culture of Ravenswood on the panels that extend from poles coming out of their respective places on the map under their feet.

Another of the four participating artists, Natalie Jeremijenko, really caught my eye with her work for Civic Action. Jeremijenko is an artist whose backgrounds in physics, biochemistry, neuroscience and engineering influence her work and made her a perfect fit for Civic Action. The image above, “X-ing Problem” is a visual representation of an issue she tackles in her work in the exhibit.

“Grid X-ing,” another image from Jeremijenko’s project study, brings in other interesting aspects of the issues of environmentalism and transportation, and exemplifies the complex and intersecting social, cultural, and environmental issues that all four of the interdisciplinary artists attacked with inspiration and innovation in the first half of Civic Action.


Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City, just closed at The Noguchi Museum. The large-scale prototypes for aspects of the projects explored at The Noguchi Museum will be displayed from May 13th to August 5th at Socrates Sculpture park.

Many thanks to The Noguchi Museum and to the artists for the use of images from their project studies.

Noguchi Museum
9-01 33rd Road, Long Island City

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