If Seeing Is Believing, a Panorama of Truth

If Seeing Is Believing, a Panorama of Truth

By Roberta Smith for The New York Times - 14 June 2014

The Queens Museum has a big advantage when it comes to the familiar curatorial tactic of using older works from its permanent collection to inspire an exhibition of contemporary art. At the museum’s figurative and actual heart lies one of the great visual wonders of New York: “The Panorama of the City of New York,” a nearly 10,000-square-foot miniaturization of every building, street, park and bridge in the five boroughs, complete with day-night lighting cycles and tiny planes zipping in and out of La Guardia and Kennedy along almost-invisible wires. 

No matter how many times you see it, “Panorama” is an almost certain thrill, like a visit to the top of the Empire State Building. It was ordered up by the demonic master builder Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair, which included the building now occupied by the Queens Museum, making it 50 years old. 

Now, “Panorama” is the point of departure for “Bringing the World Into the World,” an intermittently rewarding if ambition-challenged exhibition — including a few commissions — by 15 mostly contemporary artists, organized by Hitomi Iwasaki, the museum’s director of exhibitions and curator. One way or another, their work relates to “Panorama,” either directly or generally through its immersive quality, compression of scale, space and information, visual spectacle and, especially, its meticulous to reality.

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In “Magnetic,” a circle of 14 video monitors arranged in back-to-back pairs, Tavares Strachan gives us a panoramic view of the often-overlooked African-American explorer Matthew Henson (played by Strachan) reaching the North Pole. The sense of being on top of the world in seemingly infinite, mostly white space, is exhilarating.

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