This Wednesday, Rooftop Films presents a visceral waltz with Kings of the Wind and Electric Queens at Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens. The Park is certainly a scenic spot – one of myriad city spaces that, over 18 years, Rooftop Films has turned into a fleeting cinema. Along with Rooftop venue heavyweights Industry City and the Old American Can Factory, Socrates Sculpture Park seems to have a premium on complex grapefruit sunsets. What’s more, Socrates is one of countless markers of Rooftop’s spirit of turning space to place. After all, a venues breathes its unique history into the night’s screening. Feel free to lose yourself — in the right place, at the right time.
EST. SOCRATES SCULPTURE PARK – BREEZY AFTERNOON
The East River kisses the rocky edge of Queens, New York. This is no California coast, but nearby there’s a farmer’s market with an aspirational number of dads. The sun is high and white. Some dogs and babies bark. The local apples and rhubarb speak for themselves, in their local-ness. Behind some deciduous spruce, a chainsaw awakens. Hands hit metal hit metal.
The banks of Queens are jagged and kelpy. Sometimes, the banks become a beach: bigger than a Buick, but smaller than five Buicks.
Queens is, emotionally, the outer borough. Brooklyn is barely hanging on to that emotion. Postmark: 2015.
Socrates Sculpture Park is a mouthful usually shortened to, simply, Socrates. The park is partially located in Long Island City, the kind of neighborhood that will look you in the eye when no one else in the city does. Now a public sculpture park, Socrates blooms on what was once an illegal dumping site – at least until Mark diSuvero, an American sculptor, moved to the neighborhood in the ‘80s and saw the lot’s potential as an arts space. With the help of some local youth, he reshaped the site into a public exhibition space for large-scale sculpture, usually too unwieldy and difficult to show and sell in indoor gallery spaces.
For all its Long Island City industry-to-art past, Socrates in namesake pays homage to Astoria, home to one of the largest Greek communities outside of Greece itself. John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest American man in the late 17th century, never actually set foot in the neighborhood that was named after him. Astor saw Astoria’s rocky banks from across the East river, in his summer home on the Upper East Side.
To arrive at Socrates Sculpture Park in Astorian style, you must walk. For those who, like John Astor, usually only imagine Astoria from mainland Manhattan, the N and Q trains take you to Broadway station. The ghost of the W train line haunts the lives of increasingly business casual passerby. Along Broadway, the eponymous avenue, the walk to Socrates begins.
While there are distinct ethnic enclaves within Astoria itself, central arteries like Broadway are a testament to Astoria’s unique tendency to foster intra-ethnic communities. Right out of the train station, you can get a sense of the ethos of local needs. On one corner of Broadway, Parisi Bros sells bread with crusts that bear the fragrance of all other Italian pastries in the bakery, which nobody asked for, but nobody’s complained about for the past half-century. A few years ago, the Brazilian cafe across the avenue got supplanted by a Colombian bakery. As of now, neither bakery cares about a stranger’s stamp of approval, because they’re too busy doing what they do best: selling food and making money. Their business is inertia.
The tone shifts along Broadway are crisp. At 21st street, area man from the American West looks around and exclaims: “weird…I haven’t seen a strip mall in so long.” The buildings flatten, the signage balloons. Cross the quadruple lanes of 21st street, and two-story brick buildings begin to crumble at the armpits, giving passersby ample sky. This is where Broadway begins to feel liminal and functional – most like the municipal border that it is, separating Astoria to the north from Long Island City to the south.
Continue west, and Long Island City sneaks its industrial history into the surrounding color. The royal blue and astro turf of a decked out football field; across a little street, a chop shop stacked with taxi doors. Across the avenue, saplings usurp a gas station. Look right, shiny affordable housing. Look left, a man hoping you’ll buy his refurbished Vespa.
By the time you read this, the postcard may look quite different. The East River may thrash the rocky edge of Queens. Brooklyn might’ve imported the California coast. The farmers market may be exclusively dads. But Socrates, imbued with the patchwork caress of Astoria and the industrial aftertaste of Long Island City, will still welcome those who make the trek down Broadway to the borough’s edge.
The banks of Socrates are jagged and kelpy. Sometimes, the banks become a little cinema. Bigger than your living room, but smaller than all the living rooms in the city put together. By the time you step into Socrates, the sun will have dipped low and red. The dogs and babies will have mellowed out. Once the movie starts to play in the shy grass, the breeze and what’s on screen will be wildest.