Once a landfill, the grass at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens is far from perfect, with its innumerable bumps and bare patches, its crabgrass and dandelions. The park's location is beautiful — on Vernon Boulevard, right on the East River, with Manhattan as a backdrop. But with its urban setting and less-than-manicured lawn, it may seem like the wrong place for a sculpture exhibition about suburbia. It's not; in fact, there couldn't be a more ideal venue in all New York. Yard, the new exhibition at Socrates, is about little pink houses, gnomes on the lawn, picket fences, and places where dogs run around; in other words, those domestic elements not immediately familiar to most New Yorkers, except to those who know Queens, the borough in which the worlds of the urban and suburban actually do meet. Kids will definitely enjoy Yard. Socrates isn't the kind of hushed cultural location where reverence is insisted upon by the vastness of the architecture; as an open-air facility, Socrates gives the feeling of the park that it claims to be, and its sculptural objects give something of the impression of playground equipment. Dogs can run there — especially since there's a sculpture tailored for their use — so your kids certainly can, too. They're even allowed to walk on some of the pieces. Just try that at MoMA. Yard includes the work of 14 artists (two of whom, incidentally, happen to work with two-dimensional inkjet printing technology). Irony, angst and humor are evident in all the pieces, and although many of the works are conceptually based, they're relatively easy to appreciate; the trappings of suburbia are easy to recognize, even for born-and-bred New Yorkers. Martine Kaczynski's Patio Roll is typical of the exhibition's playful side. The silicone rubber and wood piece turns the classic backyard barbecue spot into an area carpet; "rolled up" at one end, it gives the look of a carpet that's been tossed out across the grass. (It looks like it should be climbed on, and although there's no sign stating otherwise, we recommend refraining). Also fun — although more biting in terms of social statement — is Rosemarie Fiore's Royal Pine Tree, a 33-foot-high "tree" with a telephone pole trunk and pine-scented car fresheners for needles. Fiore's work emulates nature less than it does technology — namely, cell phone towers that are disguised to look like trees. (On a windy day, the odor of the freshener/needles will nearly knock you out). Kids are free to roam through Maximilian Goldfarb's spooky Ruin I, a glazed brick construction that suggests the perimeter of a destroyed home. They can also check out the equally interesting front and back of Adam Cvijanovic's New City, a massive inkjet diptych that blocks out the reality of the Manhattan skyline with the Hollywood-like illusion of a suburban home under construction. Another massive photographic image, Gregory Crewdson's disquieting Untitled, 2001-2002, installed over the park's entrance gate, both greets you and sends you on your way with the feeling that the suburbs are something you can't dismiss, as so many do, as being blandly straightforward.
Info: Where: Socrates Sculpture Park, Vernon Boulevard and Broadway, Long Island City. When: Through August 3. Hours are 10am-sunset; open 365 days a year. Admission: FREE. For more information: (718) 956-1819; www.socratessculpturepark.org NOTE: Directions to Socrates are outlined on their website.