See major modern and contemporary works for free at the Fisher Landau Center for Art

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    Image source: Fisher Landau Center for Art

    Did you know you can have a quiet experience with works by renowned contemporary artists like Shirin Neshat, Carroll Dunham (father of Lena Dunham), Jenny Holzer, Kiki Smith or Ed Ruscha alongside pieces by Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol right in the Dutch Kills section of Long Island City? You can do so because of the vision of Emily Fisher Landau, who, in 1991, took her enormous collection of over 1,500 modern and contemporary works, beautifully renovated an old parachute harness factory in Queens, and opened her collection to the public, absolutely free of charge, establishing the Fisher Landau Center for Art.

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    Mrs. Landau began collecting art in the late 1960s, initially focusing on known entities – European and American masters such as Picasso and Matisse, Dubuffet and Giacometti – but then noticed post-war artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg who were pushing boundaries and responding to the world as it was. This commitment to artists that challenged convention took hold and she increasingly championed the new and often unaccepted, supporting the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Sherrie Levine and Terry Winters. She explained, “Artists like Kiki Smith and Glenn Ligon portray the world we are living in now.  .  . whether you like it or not is besides the point.” If she believed in someone’s talent and voice, she would collect from their oeuvre for decades, thus the collection is focused and deep.

    Emily Fisher Landau was fortunate to have married two industrious and successful men, Martin Fisher of the Fisher Brothers real estate empire and Sheldon Landau, a textile manufacturer. After the theft of a rather expensive trove of diamonds turned her off from acquiring jewelry, she took her insurance reimbursement and started buying art. Sometimes things happen for a reason.

    She struck up a fruitful friendship with Bill Katz, an interior designer with a deep knowledge of the contemporary art scene, and he introduced her to this new, interesting world. When it came time to house her massive collection, they hired architect Max Gordon, who had designed the Saatchi Gallery in London, to renovate the Long Island City warehouse with tasteful, high-quality finishes and subtle tones. Step into the unbelievably serene research library on the first floor, appointed with modern furniture by Warren McArthur, and see an enormous Cy Twombly painting hung opposite another equally arresting work by Donald Baechler.

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    In 2010, Mrs. Landau made a major gift of 419 works by 89 artists from her collection to the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the museum presented them in a 2011 exhibition with an accompanying catalogue entitled Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection. But don’t worry, this hasn’t made a dent in the holdings of the Fisher Landau Center and it’s not going anywhere.

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    Left: Kiki Smith, Untitled (The Sitter), 1992. Wax, cheesecloth, wood and dye, 28 x 24 x 36 inches. Collection of Emily Fisher Landau. Right: Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Pledge), 1998. Photoscreenprint on vinyl, 123-7⁄8 x 80 inches. Whitney Museum of American Art. Promised gift of Emily Fisher Landau P.2010.170. Photo: Light Blue Studio

    The current exhibition, up through the end of December, is entitled Visual Conversations, and it consists of selections from the permanent collection, many of which have been previously mentioned. The show is installed on all three floors of the warehouse building, the art has been carefully positioned throughout the galleries with plenty of room, and wandering up and down the building makes for just the right dose of material. Although a checklist is provided, there is no explanatory text to pick up – the organization believes in your capacity to have an experience with the works, presented as they are. But do ask the staff if you have any questions; while the vibe is decidedly low-key, they are very knowledgeable and helpful.

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    Left: Ed Ruscha, Lion in Oil, 2002. Synthetic polymer on canvas with tape, 64-3⁄16 x 72-1⁄8 inches. Whitney Museum of American Art. Promised gift of Emily Fisher Landau P.2010.330. Right: Richard Artschwager, Diderot’s Last Resort, 1992. Formica on wood, 547⁄8 x 541⁄2 x 431⁄2 inches. Whitney Museum of American Art. Promised gift of Emily Fisher Landau P.2010.22. Photo: Light Blue Studio

    In keeping with Mrs. Landau’s keen interest in new art, each spring the Center hosts the annual Columbia University School of the Arts Senior Thesis Exhibition, which is bustling and energetic. She will often acquire one or two pieces from the show for the collection.

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    Photo: courtesy of Fisher Landau Center for Art

    And yes, that’s a portrait of Emily Fisher Landau by Andy Warhol in the lobby.

    Fisher Landau Center for Art, 38-27 30th Street (GMAP), (718) 937-0727

    Hours: Thursday through Monday, noon – 5pm

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