To see cutting-edge art in Astoria, all you have to do is step outside. Evocative sculptures and murals are incorporated throughout the neighborhood: along the riverfront, across building facades and garages, even on a basketball court. In a sense, much of Astoria is an open-air museum, where admission is free and there are no closing hours.
32-01 Vernon Boulevard (at Broadway)
In 1986 sculptor Mark di Suvero felt that an abandoned landfill on the East River would be better served as an alfresco art studio and exhibition space. Today the five-acre plot is the city’s largest outdoor space for displaying sculpture. The first work of art is visible before even entering the park; it is the 28-foot-wide billboard that stands above the entrance and is changed once or twice a year; it has featured everything from a fiery landscape to the words “Eat the Sky” in capital letters.
A past exhibit at Socrates Sculpture Park. Image: Shannon McGee/Flickr
On display through September 3 is “Built,” newly commissioned works by Virginia Overton made from found materials as diverse as pickup trucks and wooden trusses. The other current exhibit, “RRRolling Stones,” conceived by design practice HANNAH, is mobile outdoor seating made from 3D-printed concrete. Visitors are meant to move and tilt the pieces until they find their optimal sitting or lounging position. Opening in October 2018 and running through the winter is the Socrates Annual. Featuring works by 15 artists, the pieces range from a labyrinth made of fences to audio-sculptural depictions of local hip-hop artists.
Lush landscaping consisting of weeping willows, roses, birch trees, and 90 other varieties of trees, flowers, and shrubs provides a bucolic counterpoint to the art. Numerous events take place here as well. Free yoga, tai chi, and capoeira classes are scheduled for weekends; on Saturdays from May through November the Socrates Mini Market sells fresh produce, baked goods, and small-batch delectables from local farmers and producers. Also on Saturdays are free hands-on workshops where kids and adults alike can create art from the likes of plastic bags, wire, string, and plaster. On Wednesday evenings throughout the summer the park’s Outdoor Cinema series screens films from around the world. Upcoming live performances include a concert by jazz trumpeter Joey Morant on August 9 and dance troupe Norte Maar on August 11, 18, and 25.
11-98 Welling Court (at 30th Avenue) and throughout Astoria
In 2009 residents of Welling Court met with members of Brooklyn’s Ad Hoc Art gallery to brainstorm ways to beautify the area. Between December 2009 and May 2010 artists painted more than 40 murals on building facades and gates. In the years since the number of works has expanded to more than 140, with new murals and mosaics officially unveiled each spring during a daylong street fair complete with food, music, and performances.
One of the Welling Court installations. Image: RockRollDue74/Wikimedia
You can view the works year-round, simply by strolling through the neighborhood. Many of the murals grace Welling Court, of course, but also the triangle of Main Avenue, 30th Avenue, and 12th Street; 28th Avenue between Astoria Boulevard and Newtown Avenue; and 14th Street between Astoria Boulevard and 29th Avenue, among other locales. Works include a brilliantly hued, just-shy-of-cartoony painting on a window gate by JPO Art, Queen Elizabeth as an alien by Christian Hooker, an elaborate grid of overlapping lines by Depoh (aka Jonathan Villoch), and a portrait of a girl on a swing nestling a dog against a seemingly post-apocalyptic background by Lmnopi.
11-07 Welling Court (off Main Avenue)
One of the buildings on Welling Court is home to 28 one-bedroom luxury residences. The front gives no indication of how it received the moniker Graffiti House, but the south facade, all seven stories of it, is adorned with a geometric mural in serene earth tones by street and studio artist Tony Sjöman, better known as Rubin. The interior walls of the parking garage are adorned with murals too, by an ever-changing assortment of artists.
Most unexpected are the works commissioned for the elevator shaft, visible through the elevator’s glass wall. These include a characteristically vibrant portrait by Lady Pink, old-school graffiti art by Chris “Daze” Ellis, and a dreamy mural by Sofia Maldonado.
Hoyt Avenue South, between 21st and 23rd Streets
Basketball court as art at Triborough Bridge Playground B. Image: BTN Communications
The basketball court of the second of six playgrounds located under the Triborough Bridge was refurbished for spring 2018 with weather-resistant asphalt and new backboards. What makes the court art is the mural designed by Mark Paul Deren, better known as MADSTEEZ, that covers the asphalt. Funded by the Big Ten Network, as was the rest of the court renovation, the mural incorporates the colors of all 14 college teams that make up the Big Ten conference. Now a perfectly executed jump shot is not the only thing of beauty on the court.