To get to SculptureCenter—the tiny but influential contemporary art institution in New York City—when it first moved to Long Island City, Queens, you used to turn down a narrow, mildly forbidding dead-end street in a low-rise industrial neighborhood. Alongside beat-up brick facades, plywood barriers, and chain link fences, a shimmering metal gate designed by Maya Lin marked the entrance to the galleries, housed in a former trolley repair shop with a distinctively soaring ceiling. Lin’s renovation of the 1908 building, with its careful insertions of light-catching aluminum and polycarbonate, appeared almost ephemeral and surprisingly delicate in comparison to the heavy structure and its rough, workaday block.
But that was 2002. A little more than a decade later, SculptureCenter stands in a remarkably different context. The neighborhood has sprouted dozens of glassy, high-rise apartment towers built by developers capitalizing on Long Island City’s proximity to Manhattan and views of its skyline. Brick industrial buildings have ceded ground en masse to towering walls of metal and glass. Amid all of that sparkling glazing, Lin’s gate lost some of its distinctiveness.