In the last two weeks, Long Island City has hosted at least two events attesting to the changes in the neighborhood.
The first was the April 5th opening at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery for Whitewashed, a show featuring the artists of the 5Pointz Aerosol Arts Center. In the middle of the night late last year, the owner of the property famously painted over the graffiti with white paint. The graffiti that adorned the building for years made 5Pointz a regular stop for visitors to Long Island City, but the owner feared that preservationists might make it impossible to tear down the building and block a pending residential development on the property.
The opening for Whitewashed was much more festive event than most other openings at Leder’s gallery. Visitors so packed the two-story brownstone building that about twenty people had to leave before I could squeeze into the gallery space. A good number of the artists were also selling some prints of their work, and the gallery staff were busy processing sale after sale of those works, affordably priced between $20 and $50. Adding to the dynamic energy of the evening were about a half-dozen of the featured artists making drawings on-the-spot. By the time I left, the room had an noticeable smell of paint, all coming from those ubiquitous paint pens.
On Friday night, the Center for Holographic Arts threw a farewell party in the bottom two floors of the Clock Tower Building at Queens Plaza. The space had been remarkably transformed from their previous show last month, which had to close early to make way for this farewell party and exhibition. Both the ground floor and the basement were packed with holographic and stereoscopic works, ranging from small postcard-sized still photographs to fifty-foot–long wall projections. The amount of work needed to stage this show was even more remarkable when you consider that this exhibition was for one night only. The “Holocenter,” as most of us have come to call it, has to vacate this space by the end of this month because, according to the Center’s staff, the space was sold to developers.
The two shows represent the changes in Long Island City that everyone with a stake in the neighborhood has anticipated for years. The abandoned industrial buildings had once allowed upstart artists to establish studios and gallery spaces. When I first moved to New York in 2001, I had heard of Long Island City emerging as an arts center. Although part of that was due to the Museum of Modern Art moving its primary gallery space to Queens in 2002, it was the artists who occupied the buildings that gave the neighborhood its excitement.
Today, the situation is different. The financial crisis of 2008 is a fading memory for real estate developers and well-heeled buyers. There are apartment buildings everywhere, and those apartments are fetching stratospherically crazy prices. At one time, I was able to name the high-rise apartment buildings on Center Boulevard: City Lights, the East Coast, and the Avalon. But now, I can’t do that anymore. There’s too many of them. After three decades of false starts as the “next big place,” the value of the land for residential development is forcing a fundamental change to the neighborhood. Over the course of a generation, Long Island City has evolved from industrial district to post-industrial desert to residential neighborhood.
At least it was nice to say good-bye.