It was announced last month that MoMA PS1 founder and executive director Klaus Biesenbach will head west to become the new director of the troubled Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. While there is no better person to undertake this task, it is a tremendous loss for the Museum of Modern Art, and the borough of Queens.
For many of our readers, PS1 has been since its 1995 founding a true artistic oasis amidst a heavily industrial and sparsely populated Long Island City. While PS1 was billed as an extension of the Museum of Modern Art in this outer borough, Biesenbach’s work elevated PS1 to an internationally recognized hub for up-and-coming as well as established artists spanning a broad spectrum of mediums from music and sculpture to mixed media and experiential.
Biesenbach’s ability to attract megastars to be directly involved in installations or events at PS1—or simply to be in proximity of Biesenbach himself—elevated PS1 and other Queens-based arts organizations. Notably, PS1’s collaboration with Patti Smith and the Rockaway Artists Alliance, among others, has brought fine arts, events and a greater interest to an artistically underserved part of Queens with the “Rockaway!” project, founded in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. This year, Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden, originally on display at the Venice Biennale in 1966, was installed in a former train garage dating back to when Fort Tilden was an active military base, as part of this year’s Rockaway! project.
The idea of adding an extension of PS1, which is already an extension of MoMA, in the Rockaways is a good reflection of the ethos Biesenbach brought to PS1. Events focused on engagement with diverse and local communities, such as the Warm Up 2018 concert series—mixed with high-profile and experimental performances such as the controversial Bjork concert, which The Atlantic called “a beautiful, ill-conceived disaster”—represent the style that Biesenbach brought to PS1 and Queens.
Agree or disagree with his curation or style, he always kept PS1 at the tip of everyone’s tongue, and Queens at the forefront of everyone’s mind in the art world. For this, he will be greatly missed. We will watch his next act in earnest.