“They grew up in a small neighborhood in Forest Hills, Queens. After they moved to the East Village in the 1970s, their music and image changed the world forever.” I very much wanted to see The Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum: Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk, which ran from the spring to the end of July. Peter was in town and he agreed to go with me. We drove and when he managed to enter the parking lot next to the museum right off the highway I was surprised. I had no idea there was an entrance back there. We both got free membership cards with our NYC IDs and put some money in the donation box. It was already afternoon and I didn’t know how long I’d be at the exhibit, so I went to see The Ramones first. I was a bit hesitant – would I be satisfied with just looking at their jackets and sneakers or would the exhibit be more than that. I was very happy. It started with a crude hand drawn map of NYC and a little of Lawn Guyland and Noo Joisey by John Holmstrom of Punk Magazine with drawings indicating the clubs and areas the band played and a drawing of all four surfing at Rockaway Beach in their leather jackets, torn jeans, and Pro-Keds or Chucks. [They started out wearing women’s Keds (that’s what they’re wearing on their first album cover) and then some of them did start wearing Chucks or Pro-Keds later on. Joey needed arch support so couldn’t wear Chucks. And Holmstrom always drew them wearing Chucks, which is what people started copying their fashion from. So The Ramones were actually copying their fans, who were mistakenly copying them, when they wore Chucks.] Tommy Ramone said in their first press release, “The Ramones all originate from Forest Hills and kids who grew up there either became musicians, degenerates, or dentists. The Ramones are a little of each.” There were vitrine tables full of memorabilia like The Ramones comic book, tickets from old shows, and handwritten lyrics. But the best was the video screens – three screens playing old concert footage that I couldn’t tear myself away from. And I was only in the first room. There were old concert flyers and old photographs by Bob Gruen and David Godlis of Jeffrey Hyman, John Cummings, Douglas Colvin, and Thomas Erdelyi otherwise known as Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy Ramone.
The next room was full of their clothing and instruments, album covers, and posters and posters. There was artwork by well-known artists and posters for solo projects of each of The Ramones. In the third room was a lot of Ramones kitsch. Plates and dioramas and stuff like that. And there were six TVs, all playing different Ramones videos. I kept switching from TV to TV and back again as I would see a video I loved or one I’d never seen. By this time Peter was long gone and exploring other things in the museum but I didn’t want to leave until I’d seen every video. That didn’t happen but I enjoyed myself a lot.
The next exhibit was The Watershed Model. The Queens Museum was the NYC Pavilion for the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs held in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The Water System Model had been created for the 1939 World’s Fair but was too big for the space and was stored at a water-pumping station in the Bronx only to be seen occasionally on visits by public school groups. Surrounding the old model, which is a long-term exhibit, is Nonstop Metropolis: The Remix, which is a temporary exhibit. The old model is fascinating – NYC is a big city and we need a lot of water and this relief map created by cartographers is a complex look at the city’s water system. The temporary exhibit is created by artists, in collaboration with Rebecca Solnit (Atlas books trilogy – the third is about NYC and produced with her collaborator geographer Josh Jelly-Schapiro and writers, artists, historians, and cartographers). The Remix is a tribute to NYC and all its stories told by writers like Heather Smith and Suketu Mehta and interpreted as artworks by Mariam Ghani (endangered languages of Queens – The Garden of Forked Tongues) and Duke Riley (water and power – That’s What She Said). Ghani’s piece represents all the endangered languages that are still spoken in Queens. The Endangered Language Alliance estimates that 800 languages are spoken in NYC and there are 500 in Queens alone. They are trying to find and record living speakers of endangered languages. From the brochure: “the Italian saying ‘traduttore, traditore’ reminds us that the distance between translator and traitor can be very short, mostly because to translate always already involves some betrayal of the original language, some loss or remaking. Every language contains untranslatable words, which express a concept so effectively and economically that they have no real equivalents in other languages. The classic example of an untranslatable word from a dying language, the Yahgan language of Tierra del Fuego, is ‘mamihlapinatapai,’ which means ‘the look shared by two people when they both want to start something but neither knows how to begin.’ There is only one Yahgan speaker left in the world, so (despite its popularity on listicles of untranslatables) it is unlikely ‘mamihlapinatapai’ will ever be spoken in casual conversation again.” And for Riley’s piece: “Hydro-Quebec sits atop mountain of animal skulls, memorializing the 10,000 caribous said to drown when the Caniapiscau reservoir was created in the 1970s. Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Caz famously told the New York Times that the blackout of 1977 ‘produced a thousand new DJs,’ with turntables and mixers among the electronics looted during the power outage. Riley puts a beaver behind the ‘wheels of steel,’ commenting not only on the blackout, but also the native wildlife that once roamed the City. Riley points out that the beaver is the only animal other than humans that create architecture that destroys their own environment. The beaver stands atop a pile of houses, representing those homes uprooted to keep the City’s water supply untainted.” The photo only shows part of Riley’s large piece. The right side shows the water flowing into the City and since the water runs down as far as the Chrysler Building is high, he has the Chrysler Building upside down underground. The left side shows Isis crying and filling the reservoir with water just as she filled the Nile with her tears. The reference to the Nile makes you think of the Temple of Dendur, which was moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to save it after the damming the Nile. She is also carrying a machine gun, which is a commentary on her name being appropriated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Remix runs until January 2017 but Ghani and Riley’s art were only on display until July 2016.
The next room had pieces that had been transformed or reinterpreted. I don’t recall the name of the exhibit and I don’t see it listed. Brian Caverly’s Studio Abandon was a 1/5 replica scale of his studio in Ridgewood, Queens. The studio is inside a shipping container so it reflects two parts of Caverly – the artist and the laborer who builds artwork shipping crates. The studio inside the crate didn’t have any art but was obviously a studio and had been painstakingly made. You had to bend down to look inside the small crate and walk all around it to see everything. There were just small windows to see inside.
In Shane Mecklenburger’s Tendered Currency, laboratory-generated diamonds were created using carbon extracted from materials that Mecklenburger considers culturally charged – gunpowder, an armadillo (state animal of Texas) killed by a car, and 32 pages from the script of Superman III (1983). You can see each diamond on top of the velvet cylinder.
Bearing Witness: Drawings by William Gropper runs until November 6. Printmaker, painter, and visual editorialist Gropper bore witness to social injustice with his drawings. From 1915 to 1935 he worked for Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The New York Tribune, Smart Set, New Masses, The Nation, and The Sunday Worker. He started painting in the 1920s, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1937, which he used to tour the Dust Bowl, and was blacklisted from 1953 to 1956 because he refused to testify at the McCarthy hearings. The saddest thing about the exhibition was how much things haven’t changed.
There was still a lot to see in the museum and I was running out of time. Since Peter had been wandering around the place longer than I had, he had seen everything. So I texted him to meet me at the Panorama of the City of New York the largest model of the New York City. Peter remembered that as a kid you could ride above the map. I don’t remember that. I do remember they used to have jets on strings taking off and landing at the airports, which they don’t have anymore. They also used to update the map; I thought they’d stop updating after 9/11 in order to leave the Twin Towers on the map, but the website says the last update was in 1992. The map is built to a scale of 1:1200 and every New Yorker’s favorite activity is looking for their house. I could see the area where my house is but couldn’t find the exact building. I also see from the site that they did have an indoor “helicopter” ride where you could view the map.
Here’s the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge. I was very happy to find that.
This is part of Queens. Forest Park is the green on the left (left of that are all the Brooklyn cemeteries) and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (with the two lakes) is to the right and above. My house is sort of in-between the two.
Photo from the website (click on exhibit link to see more good photos of the Panorama). As you can see, the Twin Towers still exist in this version of NYC.
After the museum we continued to have a Queens day by going to the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden for sausages and other good food. And then the Lemon Ice King of Corona for some delicious lemon ice and multi-fruit ice and bocce ball watching across the street.
On the drive home, what should I see under the LIRR trestle in Forest Hills but a new mural of The Ramones? Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good photo.
By Carene Lydia Lopez