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Still photo of 
bleachers in Ederle

Drawing for 
Ederle installation

Still from Ederle

Delivery of the 
Pietá to the 
Vatican Pavilion in 1964

Pietà at the World's Fair,
Reproduced in 
Remembering the Future

Dolls from "It's a Small World "
reproduced in 
Remembering the Future

dennis adams
at the queens museum
by Susan Silas

For the future is like heaven--everyone
exalts it but no one wants to go there

--James Baldwin, 1958

Dennis Adams has created a site-specific
installation Ederle for the Queens
Museum of Art. Adams is widely known for
his public-art installations or
"interventions" in both the U.S. and
Europe. Central to the new installation is 
a backlit, 
very frontal photograph of the seating in the
Gertrude Ederle Amphitheater. The
amphitheater was built for the 1939
World's Fair--"the World of Tomorrow"--in
Flushing Meadow Park. When this exhibition
opened in April, the amphitheater was
still standing, though slated for
demolition. Yesterday, June 24, it was 
all but gone. A pile of bent girders and
rubble. You can buy a souvenir brick for 
$5 if you are so inclined.

Below this large-scale photograph of the
amphitheater and recessed several feet
you can see roughly the bottom third of
rear-projected imagery (surely shot on
film but now projected in video format) of
various home movies taken by Fair-goers to
both the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs. Legs
on skates, bodies in the water (presumably 
at the Aquacade), rides, shots of pavilions, 
etc. I'm guessing that the majority were 
shot in the '60s but there is evidence of 
the earlier fair as well.

For a moment I was reminded of the horror
experienced seeing a long-dead parent
flicker by on that now distinctive 16mm
Kodacolor film. Here, legions file past
lively yet somehow ill lit.

Inside this theatrical space, which was
built for the installation and in which
there is no seating--save in this giant
image which spans the entire width of the
room--the photograph is dramatically
present. Much has been made in the
catalogue of "eliminating the idea of a
privileged point of view" due to the
viewer's inability to read the entirety of
the filmic images. Yet I felt oddly
omniscient standing there. This perhaps
out of sheer perversity, for the nagging
inevitability of mortality seemed to hover
at my side.

Adams was presumably attracted to the
fairground because of its peculiar history
as public space. It's difficult to
describe how winning the installation is;
it needs to be seen. Too bad in a way that
the exhibition closes before the Open
opens. A little art and a little tennis--
not a bad combination.

For some reason I was hard pressed to
think about the architecture or public 
spaces per se, even though I know that
these are serious concerns that inform
Adams' work. I just kept thinking about
Michelangelo's Pieta and the Pepsi-Cola
Pavilion. In 1964 Pope John XXIII agreed
to bring the Pieta to New York to be
exhibited in the Vatican Pavilion at the
fair. The sculpture had been in St.
Peter's since 1499 and had never been
moved. The Pieta was lit by a theatrical
designer and viewers were carried past it
on a giant "people mover" e.g. a moving
sidewalk. I remember vividly standing
before this austere, pristine object
surrounded by a bluish glow, and having to
march sideways and to the left to prevent
myself from being swept speedily past it
after having waited so long to enter the
pavilion. This image and the song that
accompanied the Disney-designed Pepsi-Cola
Pavilion's "It's A Small World" exhibition
are in fact the only things I remember
about the 1964 World's Fair. That awful
song entered those young brain cells like
a bad advertising jingle, never to be
dislodged. Robert Moses was quoted in the
Saturday Evening Post in 1964 as having
said, "The stars of my show are
Michelangelo and Walt Disney." Obviously
he knew what he was talking about.

In fact, those two impulses, the religious
and the Utopian, would seem to be the
point--though I'm not sure that Adams
would agree. For those with faith--a
moment comes when all men and women are
stripped of their worldly possessions and
stand before God as equals. For those with
less or none, the injustices of the
present seem less bearable--this being the
only game in town.

Did you ever wonder why we never got to
have that magnificent "car of the future?"
Surely, everyone that saw one wanted one.

I know I did. And I kept waiting. Ten
years went by, then 20, then 30. I'd
think--it must have been too expensive to
produce, maybe it wasn't a functional
design, or maybe it was just too wonderful
to let anyone have it.

But maybe not being allowed to have
something that was imagined is really just
an inverse metaphor for the difficulties
inherent in representing that Utopian
ideal. If for example we lived in a world
in which--and this is just by way of
example--men and women really had social
and economic parity everywhere in the
world, everything, and I mean everything
would be so radically transformed that the
world of day-to-day life would be
completely unrecognizable. But it is not
just the world around us that we would
have difficulty recognizing. We would be
constituted and interpellated so
differently we would be strangers to

It is not a failure of the imagination not
to be able to picture this future
but a failure of the imagination to suppose that
one could.

So all that great stuff of the future that
we never got to have gets documented in
books about the World's Fair and we can
gaze at it and wonder why it is we never
managed to have that better world. And in
our "real" world, thanks to technology, 
the dead skate past us in all their youth
and vigor. And it's not mawkish or
sentimental. On the contrary, the
installation seems to be asking us to act
in the "real" world while we have the
chance. And how do we know that there is
anymore a "real" to act in? Well
you can, take it on faith or you can side with
Salman Rushdie when he said--in response
to who knows what--"We prove the world
real by dying in it."

Dennis Adams at the Queens Museum
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Queens, N.Y. 11368
April 18 - July 7, 1996

Susan Silas is an artist living and working in New York.