World art treasures find a home in Queens

By Tammy Scileppi

From visually compelling textiles, to figurative objects and ceremonial items, to vessels and masks, ancient artisans across the globe crafted and weaved items that were not only functional but expressed their deep-rooted relationship with nature and cosmology, and mirrored what they saw around them.

Now some of those ancient and not-so-ancient objects have been rounded up to showcase the diversity of the borough.

Through January “Five Continents, One Borough: Art Treasures From the Homelands of Queens,” curated by the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, will be displayed at the Citi DeFord Gallery in Long Island City.

Visitors to the show will find a sampling of 33 works ranging from pre-Colombian textiles from Meso and South American Cultures, to contemporary Chinese painting, to Christian, Muslim and Buddhist objects, selected from the museum’s 6,000-item collection.

“The mission of the museum is to serve the communities of Queens by providing equal access to artistic, cultural and historical eduction,” Amy Winter, the museum’s director and curator, said. “Objects are vessels of history and culture, and tell us so much about our heritage, societies, civilizations. And we learn about ourselves by learning about the past as well as the present.”

The research, writing, and design of the exhibition was done by Queens College students in the Museum Studies class taught by Professor James M. Saslow during this past spring semester.

The 12 students in the class did the primary research for almost all of the objects in the show, as well as on the contextual issues of globalization and cultural exchange it tries to highlight, Saslow said. He said they also read a good deal about the cultures of their chosen areas, which helped them write the larger wall labels that introduce the exhibition and its five parts.

“They worked enthusiastically with the staff of the museum, and gained first-hand experience of both art objects and the museum profession,” Saslow said. “They understood the theme of the show, often from their own personal experiences of straddling two cultures, and had so much to say about each object.”

Like Queens, the college’s student body is exceptionally diverse.

Student Amanda Nocera was responsible for investigating and reporting on a 20th-century African Kuba cloth — made from raffia cloth and woven into geometric designs — a late-19th century yastik textile created by Turkish nomads and Carlos Merida’s 1961 painting “Los dos Soles,” gouache on bark paper.

Besides geography, students chose works by medium, so as to display a broad range of objects from paintings to prints to textiles and carved masks, as well as quality.

“Where we had multiple works from one country to choose from, we opted for the most visually stunning or unusual pieces. Among my favorites are an etching by Rembrandt of 17th-century Jews in a Dutch synagogue, a nearly unique document of that tolerant society, and a tropically colorful oil by African-American painter Claude Clark, who adapted European Old Master paintings to dignify Puerto Rican sugar-cane cutters,” Saslow said.

For Saslow, the show is the perfect symbol of the hybrid culture of Queens.

And for Winter, setting up an exhibition in Long Island City helps expand the museum’s mission.

“We’re very excited about this show because of the collaboration with Citi and see it as a way of extending our outreach beyond the college campus to other parts of Queens, other individuals in different contexts and professions,” Winter said. “And it makes people aware of the wonderful resources we have at the museum and the college.”

If You Go

“Five Continents, One Borough: Art Treasures From the Homelands of Queens”

When: Through Jan. 8, 2016

Where: Citi DeFord Gallery, One Court Square, Long Island City

Cost: Free

Contact: (718) 997-4747

Website: www.gtmuseum.org

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