Reclaiming Space at Socrates Sculpture Park
Long Island City– the neighborhood where Socrates Sculpture Park is located– has seen a rapid rise in gentrification in recent years. Historically, Queens’ rich soil made it a farming region, but in the 1800s, this rapidly gave way to industrialization after the famous Steinway Piano Company moved to the area. Along with the rest of New York, manufacturing began to decline in the 1950s, and by the 1970s, the areas was largely abandoned. The place where Socrates Sculpture Park is now was nothing more than an illegal dumpsite for refuse from subway construction.
In 1986, the site was reclaimed by artist Mark di Suvero, who transformed the space into the only place in the entire New York metropolitan area to be completely devoted to offering artists a place to create and exhibit large-scale installations. In the years since di Suvero began the park, it has grown to offer more and more events, residencies, and community-oriented programming.
At the heart of Socrates and all its activities is a desire to rehabilitate the land– not just for the present, but for the future as well. Their mission is based on the essential belief that “reclamation, revitalization and creative expression are essential to the survival, humanity, and improvement of our urban environment”.
Socrates’ latest series of exhibits– which opened on May 8th– continues this legacy and ensures its future, as they celebrate their 30th anniversary. Each installation engages with the land and the history of the area from a different perspective, drawing on natural or found materials to speak to Socrates’ themes in varying ways. With summer approaching, many of the exhibits are beginning to come into full bloom– and will only become more impressive with time.
At the literal center of the park is Concave Room for Bees by Meg Webster, an earthwork planted 70-feet in diameter with pollinator-friendly flowers of all different colors. The exhibit is meant to evolve over time, as the different flowers come into bloom; when the exhibit is over, the nutrient rich soil used to build the giant circular cove will be redistributed where it is needed throughout the park– quite literally giving new life to space.
On the other side of the park by the water, Jessica Segall’s Fugue in B♭ is also creating a welcoming space for bees in an old piano. Segall installed a colony at the top of the piano and as the bees move about the space, building their comb, they gently pluck the strings, creating a song. The piano honors Long Island City’s history with the Steinway Company while simultaneously reconnecting with the natural world.
The rest of the park is filled with Cool Stories for When The Planet Gets Hot (located in a repurposed shipping container), which documents tales of climate change; Half Moon, which honors the Native American Lenni Lenape people who originally occupied Long Island City, while examining the effects of Henry Hudson and colonization; and Urban Forest Lab, an ongoing project by Casey Tang that experiments with different natural ways to rehabilitate the Socrates’ land, with the end goal of creating a low maintenance, edible landscape that emulates a forest ecosystem.
The self-described “oasis in an oasis” is a great place for families– or anyone else looking to enjoy the outdoors (with a little history) on their Memorial Day Weekend. The installations are large, and invite a tactile enjoyment, encouraging people of all ages to move around the space. Open through August 28th, anyone visiting should plan to catch the exhibits at least twice to see how they evolve across time. But even if you only visit Socrates Sculpture Park once, most of the exhibits will be taken apart at the end of this current run, at which point they will be recycled throughout the park– ensuring all the while that a little part of each is always on display.
To learn more about Socrates Sculpture Park and their upcoming events, check out the park’s website.