Friday, May 27, 2011

Austrian Cultural Forum: 52nd St btwn Madison and 5th

In my walks around the City with my little dog, Biscuit, I noticed a small (and I mean small) entrance of a skyscraper (24 stories high).  On closer inspection, I found out that this was the Austrian Cultural Form and that it was open to the public.  After doing a little bit of online research at I discovered that the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Austria provides architectural tours M-F at 4 pm of the Raimund Abraham designed landmark.

The tour was led by a young intern, and although a little disorganized, she provided great handouts with building statistics, showed us (3 were on the tour, and they seemed surprised to have any of us) all of the public spaces, and even gave us a bonus peek at her office.  While she showed us the 12,000 volume Austrian-focused public library, the 74 seat performance space (they have over 200 events here a year!) with the piano elevator (see photo at right of the ceiling panel and lift grooves of the elevator), and an overview of the gallery space and the "scissor" fire escape staircase, my favorite part of the building (aside from just the dramatic facade (see left), was the smaller meeting/panel discussion space (see below).  The small space was spectacular, with its floor to ceiling window wall that overlooked the Gothic church across the way juxtaposed against the modern steel beams of this building--beautiful.

They also recently re-opened their gallery space with a showing called "FÜNF RÄUME" (which means Five Rooms in German).  The exhibit basically covers one floor up and one floor down from the lobby entrance level.  The building is so narrow (it has the same footprint as the original brownstone located here) that they have made stairway landings into 5 gallery spaces.  Each of the five contemporary Austrian artists in the exhibition got a gallery space to design as they pleased in a one week period.  Most of the installations didn't do a whole lot for me, but I thought that the foam core spatial study piece by Esther Stocker was interesting and drew me in (see below right).  Somehow just the positioning of what seems like deceptively random shapes cut from foam core was compelling.

A look through the gallery and the architecture tour can be enjoyed in about 30 minutes so if you are in the neighborhood around 4 pm, take a look.  You'll be educated, interested, and absorb some international culture--all available in NYC for free!

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