NEW YORK — The Queens Museum of Art for decades had to work within the confines of a building that originally was constructed as a pavilion for the 1939 World's Fair.
But no longer. A nearly 3-year, $68 million expansion and renovation project has created a light-filled, airy and spacious environment that doubles its size.
The transformed museum has been rebranded the Queens Museum to reflect its mission of producing world-class exhibitions of contemporary art as well as programming and installations that examine important issues through objects of art.
It was designed by Grimshaw Architects, a British-based firm selected through the city's Design Excellence Program. It opens to the public on Nov. 9.
Visitors enter a 48-foot-tall atrium dominated by a monumental chandelier-like canopy of glass panels programmable with LED lighting. This expansive space features changing and commissioned works of art and is ringed by six galleries.
One holds the museum's crown jewel: a Robert Moses-commissioned 9,335-square-foot panorama of New York City, the world's largest full-scale architectural model.
Nine artist studios, educational classrooms, a gift shop and cafeteria also have been added.
The 105,000-square-foot museum, founded in 1972, sits in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, steps from the National Tennis Center. It has two glass-facade entrances. One faces the park and the 1964 World's Fair Unisphere. The other fronts the Grand Central Parkway in plain view of thousands of motorists.
The city-owned building now has room for another spectacular model — a 500-square-foot, 27-piece relief map of the New York City watershed, produced for the 1939 World's Fair and shown only one other time, in 1948 for the city's Golden Anniversary Exposition.
In the 1940s, the building served as host to the U.N. General Assembly. "The People's United Nations," an inaugural performance piece by Pedro Reyes, pays homage to that. The building will convene mock assemblies with visitors acting as U.N. delegates, solving world problems using alternative resolution techniques drawn from theater, marriage counseling and psychology.
Other inaugural exhibitions include "Andy Warhol's 13 Most Wanted Men and the 1964 World's Fair."
Visitors can also take in the museum's celebrated Tiffany glass (Tiffany Studios were located in Corona, Queens) and massive World's Fair memorabilia collections.
The expansion became possible when an ice-skating rink that occupied the southern half of the building relocated elsewhere in the park.
"We were bursting at the seams," said Tom Finkelpearl, the museum's executive director. "This gave us the opportunity to have a space that reflects our mission. We say our one-word mission statement is 'openness.' We now have a beautiful, wide-open, spacious central space to open up to the public."
He said officials at the museum, which is funded by the borough, city and state, hopes to double the number of visitors in the first year to 200,000.
By 2015, a new 5,500-square-foot Queens Library branch will be part of the museum, allowing the curators and librarians to continue their collaboration on education programming and books that reflect the museum's exhibitions.
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