By Dustin Brown
Some say it’s unsightly. To others, it’s art — or at least a shell for art.
But a long-dormant debate over the wall that separates the courtyard at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center from the surrounding neighborhood was resurrected when the museum went before Community Board 2 to start the process of renewing its lease.
At its meeting last Thursday, the board agreed to the lease with one stipulation: the wall must be transformed into something a bit more inviting.
“The museum has agreed to apply for funds to attempt to have a way to soften the wall,” said Walter McCaffrey, an attorney and former city councilman who represented P.S. 1 before the community board.
P.S. 1 is now run by the Museum of Modern Art, which is operating out of a temporary Long Island City facility called MoMA QNS while its Manhattan home is renovated.
The fortress-like wall, which runs along Jackson Avenue at the perimeter of the museum’s courtyard, was built in 1997 as part of an extensive city-funded renovation of the museum. The wall was put up to protect the security of the building and the courtyard, which is used as an outdoor gallery space.
But when it went up, the wall elicited a collective shriek from some local residents who felt it blocked out the community and negatively altered the historic school building from which the museum was carved.
Many of them still think so.
“It is really ugly. It looks like a construction wall,” said Dorothy Morehead, a member of Community Board 2 and the chairwoman of its environmental committee. “It’s just a plain cement wall — it’s just featureless.”
The towering wall features a handful of vertical slits through which passers-by can peak into the courtyard, as well as a few dozen peep-holes that serve the same purpose. At the corner, “P.S. 1” is pressed into the stone in enormous letters, alongside a wide front gate made of vertical black bars not unlike a prison cell.
The museum will apply for public funds to finance improvements to the wall, like new lighting, that would settle the community’s concerns, McCaffrey said.
P.S. 1 will also hold a competition for artists to submit ideas for “wall treatments” to spruce it up.
Officials at the Museum of Modern Art say they are pleased with the arrangement.
“P.S. 1/MoMA is glad to be in a continued dialogue with the community on this issue and pleased that the lease renewal process is going forward as planned,” said Ruth Kaplan, MoMA’s deputy director for marketing and communications, in a written statement. “P.S. 1/MoMA is proud to be a part of the thriving arts scene in Long Island City.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.