The Guggenheim’s Magical Mystery Tour (Is Coming to Take You to Queens):
It was funny to get a wristband from an art museum so soon after Kraftwerk, but there we were in Jackson Heights, where we had zipped via the generous bike lanes of Queens, feeling that familiar tug. We had come for the first sessions of Stillspotting, the latest in the Guggenheim’s ongoing, off-site project to find—and enhance—spots of tranquility in our busy urban fabric. This was a few days after the museum had announced a multimillion-dollar global art initiative, sponsored by UBS Bank, to connect with art, artists, and curators from South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa. While this style of international networking is miles away from the global expansionist ethic that spawned the Guggenheims Bilbao and Abu Dhabi, Stillspotting is further away still.
Helmed by David van der Leer, assistant curator of architecture and urban studies—who co-curated the BMW Guggenheim Lab in downtown Manhattan and is taking it on the road to Mumbai—Stillspotting is not about spectacle but silence. In part this is literal—van der Leer is fluent in the language of noise complaints and hearing loss-–but it is also metaphorical, about the silence we so often require but rarely obtain in order to properly reflect, heal, and ultimately create. While there’s an earnest, almost urgent aspect to the projects, which have been unfolding over a two-year span in each of the five boroughs, starting with (Brooklyn and Manhattan), each also has a treasure-hunt quality, like a magical mystery tour.
That is readily apparent in the latest iteration, Transhistoria, which is offered for the next three weekends. It’s the work of SO – IL, a husband-and-wife architectural team who in this case acted more as curators, location scouts, casting agents, and producers—commissioning stories from Queens-affiliated writers, finding Jackson Heights residents to read them, and staging the readings in a variety of settings, including a pedestrian plaza redolent of samosa and La Gran Uruguaya café. Upon arrival at the ticketing kiosk at 40-40 75th Street, visitors receive a map showing which six venues are open that day. Out of those, they pick four. Then off they go, through the richly architectural and densely multicultural neighborhood, finding their way to a circle of foam stools and immersing themselves in whatever personal narrative follows—on escape, and assimilation, and longing and belonging. It’s a beautiful experience, at once tranquilizing and hopeful.
Like artist Tania Bruguera’s Immigrant Movement International, an initiative of two other art organizations, the Queens Museum and Creative Time, that’s operating out of a storefront in nearby Corona, Stillspotting proves that the most innovative and border-crossing art can occur under the shadow of the jets moving international curators around the globe. The project will continue to take the Guggenheim places it’s never been at its next and final stops, in Staten Island and the Bronx. For some participants, however, the transformation might be permanent.
Stillspotting in action. The site is the garden of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church; the reader is Xia Tio; the story is “At Home in the New World: A Jackson Heights Native Savors her Neighborhood,” by Maria Terrone
Installation by Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu (SO – IL). Image © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. Photo: Kristopher McKay