LIC Museum of Natural History at Texas Firehouse

LIC Museum of Natural History (May 31st)
by Audrey Dimola
Published on licmagazine.com, June 2008

All those in search of the “Grand Opening Gala” of the Long Island City Museum of Natural History on the evening of May 31st were in for a pleasant – if not amusing – surprise. Originally mentioned on the web site of the LIC gallery and performance space, Texas Firehouse, the LIC Museum of Natural History soon had its own official space on the internet, complete with information on admission tickets, accessibility, an introduction to the collection (Rock and Mineral, Environmental Sciences, Zoology and Botany), and a mission statement, mentioning their “world-class collection of objects, specimens, and displays” and their goal of providing “education about the region, specifically Queens, through a series of exhibits about regional history, geology, and industry.”

In actuality, though, as one would come to discover either from the emailed press release from the day before the event, or, upon actual arrival at the space, that the LIC Museum of Natural History was actually a group art show at the Texas Firehouse curated by Jeff Thompson. “Rather than a dry critique of museums or the classification of objects within them, the LIC Museum of Natural History is part elaborate joke, part real entity,” a pamphlet from the Museum reads. “At what point can a collection become a museum and what are the museum’s limitations?”

That night the garage door of the Firehouse was raised to beckon curious pseudo-museum-goers in past the homemade veggie tacos and “volcano/meteor” cake, the bar and “gift shop” (complete with dinosaur skeleton models for sale!), and the “Ron W. Pallaka IMAX Theatre (actually a projection of the movie “Deep Blue”), where visitors on a bench and two chairs watched polar bears saunter and beluga whales swim across the wall. Directly next to the “IMAX theatre” was the entranceway into the main gallery, which had been clearly christened the “Ron W. Pallaka Memorial Wing.”

The “specimens” on display in the gallery spanned the mediums of sculpture, painting, video, and sound, and were accompanied by a museum-style didactic text written by each artist (and with a fake catalog number!) that served to recontextualize the objects in a variety of strange and humorous ways. The art, which was unique on its own, was even more amusing via fictionalization – there was a “Restored Archaeoacoustic Recording Kit and Documentation” (Tianna Kennedy and Tarikh Korula), “Samples from Dr. and Nurse Wellfish’s Red Hook Expedition, March – June 1968” (Karim Bendahmane), with a variety of plastic creatures suspended in liquid in jars, “Ornamental Hair Tools” (Alina Tesnor), which included a long lock of hair braided with ribbon and a hatchet attached at each end, “circa 5200 BC,” and even a “Time-Machine Model” built by “inventor Jeff Thompson,” “b. 1810.” Who knew?

After the initial rounds of guests perused the gallery and prowled the rest of the space, TwistyCat’s baritone sax and bass clarinet droned earlier in the evening in the Memorial Wing. Later, Slow/Dynamite took to the roof with their dramatic double drumbeats, guitar, and vocals as museum-goers swayed in the shadow of the Keyspan Plant looming monstrously against the lights of the not-too-distant Manhattan skyline. Guests then danced to DJs spinning music on the roof, and chatted on chairs and benches while new visitors were wandering in and still perusing the gallery after midnight. Sounds like a successful museum experience to me!

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