Photo Courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park
While New York City’s museum culture is certainly enviable (we’ve got the MET and the American Museum of Natural History!), it’s generally difficult to view art in isolation. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself waiting in long lines to purchase tickets, only to shuffle from one room to the next with a horde of wide-eyed tourists.
Long Island City‘s Socrates Sculpture Park is one exception. Unsurprisingly, it’s named in honor of Socrates (469-399 B.C.), the great Greek philosopher known as the founding father of Western philosophy. The name, however, also acts as a nod to the people of Astoria, which hold’s New York City’s largest Greek community (reportedly the largest Hellenic city in the world aside from Athens). Today, the outdoor museum and park not only features multi-media installations and sculptures, but also offers a tucked-away spot to take in the killer view of the Manhattan skyline.
10. Socrates Sculpture Park Was Built on Top of Landfill
While Socrates Sculpture Park is covered in grass and trees today, it didn’t always have such an idyllic past. The site once served as a port for offloading stone and sand, but eventually transformed into a dumping area and landfill, where people discarded construction debris and other odd parts.
In 1985, local sculptor Mark di Suvero saw an opportunity to transform the blighted acres of land into a thriving work place for artists to produce work and present them in a public manner. That year, the restoration process to reclaim the land began, giving rise to what would become the largest outdoor space in New York City dedicated to exhibiting sculpture.
9. Grave Markers Can Be Found in Socrates Sculpture Park
Photo Courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park
Socrates Sculpture Park is surrounded by stone fencing built, in part, by boulders recycled from old grave markers. Scan the area and you might notice a few blocks with engraved names and letters. According to amNewYork, however, no one on staff knows which graveyard the stones were actually pulled from.
8. There’s a Beach in Socrates Sculpture Park
Many visitors to Socrates Sculpture Park are unaware of the beach (Socrates Sculpture Park Beach at Hallets Cove) that exists within the area. When high tide rolls in, the sandy shore is often concealed, adding to its overall inconspicuousness. If you’re looking to catch some sun, LIC Community Boathouse offers free kayaking and canoeing (weather permitting) on select weekend days in July and August. Look for the entrance to the beach along Vernon Boulevard, north of the park’s orange gates.
7. Socrates Sculpture Park Was a Temporary City Park
For 14 years, Socrates Sculpture Park operated with a temporary city park status. In 1998, however, Rudolph Giuliani gave the park its official city park status after its lease had expired. At the time, a developer had begun to seek out the land to construct luxury apartments and develop a marina on the site.
6. Socrates Sculpture Park Has Had Its Fair Share of Quirky Works of Art
The wide range of artworks inside Socrates Sculpture Park is truly impressive. Sometimes, you’ll have a humorous piece like Monument to Walken, created by artist Bryan Zanisnik. It features 10 concrete busts of Walken and a comic (created by collaborator Eric Winkler) that outlines his history in Astoria, where he was born.
In 2015, New York City-based artist Agnes Denes also presented “Living Pyramid” on Socrates Sculpture Park’s East River waterfront. The site-specific earthwork tied together environmental priorities, social hierarchies and Denes’s own fascination with pyramid structures in a participatory (and evolving) art piece. Its lifecycle started in April 2015, and as the pyramid grew, the public was invited for a planting event on May 17th, coinciding with the park’s spring opening.
Also make sure to check out the other emerging artists chosen for Socrate Sculpture Park’s annual Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition (EAF). This year, the winners will be exhibiting their work from September 25, 2016 to March 13, 2017. Read more here.
5. The Socrates Sculpture Park Billboard is Actually a Piece of Art
Hank Willis Thomas. From Cain’t See in the Morning Till Cain’t See at Night (from Strange Fruit), 2011. Photo by Nate Dorr, courtesy of Socrates Sculpture Park.
Because Socrates Sculpture Park is filled with unique artwork, it’s easy to overlook the 10 x 28′ billboard that greets visitors as soon as they enter the green space. Since 1999, it has served as a canvas for images that are installed once or twice a year. Artists utilize the space to set the context and tone for whatever show is on display.
4. Socrates Sculpture Park’s First Permanent Building Will Be Made From Shipping Containers
“The Cubes.” Image via LOT-EK
LOT-EK, a New York-based architecture firm, is designing what will eventually become the first permanent building in Socrate Sculpture Park. Made from six shipping containers, the 2,640-square-foot, two-story structure was originally developed as an art studio for the Whitney Museum of American Art. Socrates Sculpture Park will serve as the building’s second home, where it will be used as a education and office space, as well as a gallery. LOT-EK was also the firm behind the quirky architectural bookstore Van Alen Books, which is no longer.
3. Socrates Sculpture Park is Full of Flora
While most people don’t associate New York City with nature, Socrates Sculpture Park is actually filled with lush flora, including 90+ varieties of trees and plant life. From weeping willows to daffodils, the park provides a quiet refuge filled with both art and greenery.
Plant Specialists, a team of landscape architects, designers and horticulturists, has offered its expertise to Socrates Sculpture Park for over two decades. In fact, many of the plants you can find in the park were donated by the company. Plant Specialists has also been instrumental in the park’s Community Works Initiative Program, which offers employment and job training to locals. Through special workshops with Plant Specialists’ staff, participants learn landscaping and horticultural skills; they also tend to the park’s gardens.
2. There’s Also an Urban Forest Lab Project in Socrates Sculpture Park
Located just beyond the park’s North entrance is Casey Tang’s Urban Forest Lab. Based off of woodland ecosystems, the low-maintenance, sustainable agriculture system is what is known as a forest garden – generally comprised of plant polycultures, which adds diversity to an ecosystem and closes the nutrient cycle.
1. Socrates Sculpture Park Offers Artist Fellowships
On November 1, 2016, Socrates Sculpture Park launched its open call for artist proposals for the Emerging Artist Fellowship (EAF). The annual residency program will award 15 artist with a $5,000 production grant to produce and install pieces in the park for an outdoor exhibition coming in Fall 2017. Recipients will also receive five-months of access to the park’s various studio resources.
Next, check out past and present installations in Socrates Sculpture Park.