An Artists’ Haven, and the Graffiti Building of LIC

In my previous post I discussed private art modeling, and made a passing reference to artists finding their own studio space. The search for such a space – an affordable one, I should say – is a popular topic among New York artists. In a city whose real estate development and cost of living expenses have skyrocketed dramatically over the past decade, the hunt for a plain old no-frills art studio can be a discouraging one indeed.

But despite all the frustration and mind-numbing rents, the situation is not completely hopeless. There are spaces to be found, believe it or not! With a little persistence and resourcefulness, New York artists have sniffed out little “pockets” of the city, and have breathed new life into old neighborhoods as a result. With Manhattan having driven out so many artists (must accommodate the millionaires, you know), the borough of Queens, of all places, has inherited them. Welcomed them with open arms. But 25 years ago if you had told me, a native Queens girl, that our borough would one day become a hip artist’s haven, I never would have believed it. And no amount of booze and drugs could have created such an unreal hallucination.

Long Island City – the “LIC” of my post title – sits on the westernmost part of Queens, directly across the East River from midtown Manhattan. It was originally part of a much broader area known as “Newtown Township”, which also included Dutch Kills, Bowery Bay, Hunterspoint, Ravenswood, and parts of Astoria and Sunnyside. Long Island City has now taken on it’s own unique identity, and contributes to the overall “image makeover” that Queens is undergoing.

These days, when I take on a private art modeling job, I find myself more and more going to LIC (or its close neighbor Astoria). Although I’m still working in private art studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn, I increasingly find something like “LIC, take 7 train to Courthouse Road, cross under el, walk 3 blocks” etc, scribbled in my work assignment book.

For my newest private job, I’m working in what is known locally- and famously- as the “Five Pointz” building, at the corner of Crane Street and Jackson. There are many buildings like this in western Queens. They’re all converted warehouses, and the studios are quite good, pretty roomy, and most with excellent light. This one, though, stands out for obvious reasons. I think it is now one of the few public structures in the city where graffiti art is not only legal but organized by the tagging community as a showcase for their work. A living collage, the Five Pointz facade is constantly changing, and serves as a mecca for street artists:

For many decades, Long Island City was purely industrial, known for providing the terminus of the 59th Street Bridge, and for factories and manufacturing. When I was growing up, we knew it as “the place with all the bakeries”. Huge bakeries! Where every loaf of bread seemed to come from, before they ended up in breadbaskets on restaurant tables around town. LIC was also once home to a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant, Fisher Electronics, Swingline Staples, and Chiclets Gum. Here’s more of the Five Pointz, exterior and interiors:

Today, Long Island City has more to boast than just warehouses and factories, and it basks in its transformation. It is home to PS1 Contemporary Art Center, which is an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art. In fact, when MoMA was undergoing major renovations several years ago, it relocated to Queens in the interim. Once again, Queens to the rescue! Holding down the fort while Manhattan is preoccupied. Also in LIC are Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture garden and museum (converted from an old photo-engraving plant), the Socrates Sculpture Park, the American Museum of the Moving Image, and Queens’ beloved SilverCup Studios, known for the production of many television shows, among them HBO’s The Sopranos. Throw in the biggest fortune cookie factory in the United States (they produce 4 million a day) and the headquarters for the Fresh Direct grocery delivering service (a company many New Yorkers can’t live without!) and you have a diverse community buzzing with production and activity, both artistic and commercial. And what a happy marriage it is 🙂 Yay Queens!! Rock on . . . you big galoot!

4 thoughts on “An Artists’ Haven, and the Graffiti Building of LIC

  1. babahr says:

    Astoria’s in the house!

  2. Wow, I am trying to catch up.

  3. artmodel says:

    Yeah, Bob!

    😎 😎 😎

  4. artmodel says:

    Robert, nice to see you again, friend!


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