Saturday, August 22, 2009

The L Magazine: Museums Go To War on the High Seas of Queens

On The L Magazine:

I left Duke Riley’s Naumachia (Latin for “naval battle”) completely soaked and covered with dried fake blood and tomato bits and completely satisfied. But before we get into all that, what exactly is the Naumachia?

Duke Riley, rogue waterfront artist extraordinaire, with help from the Queens Museum, called for homemade boats to participate in an epic, Roman-style live battle. Using the abandoned hockey rink attached to the Queens Museum as a boat shop, Riley and participants built recycled boats, using items like reeds from beaches and even materials from the hockey rink itself.
Before the battle, toga-clad spectators and participants crowded into the lobby of the Queens Museum of Art, downing free special lemonade after beer after wine. (Alcohol was free to those donning togas.) Last minute preparations were still being made with the boats. The battle would take place at the reflecting pool at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, former home of the 1964 World’s Fair, within view of the Unisphere.

Families walked around with children, who waded in the pool. Darkness soon settled, and floodlights bathed the pool in light. The audience was getting restless, and took advantage of the boxes of bread and tomatoes that lay around the area, begging to be used, bombarding members of each side.

And then the battle really began. Each ship came out to be greeted by cheering and tomatoes. From my vantage point, it was difficult to see exactly what was going on, as the scene was shrouded in smoke, criss-crossed with flying tomatoes, and obscured behind huge splashes of water. Nevertheless, chaos ruled the scene. Bystanders jumped into the pool, taking part in the battle themselves. When the pigboat sailed in in all its swine-y glory, the audience gleefully jumped aboard.

Near the end, a replica of Riley’s favorite ship, the Queen Mary 2, came out and was promptly set on fire, as the battle went on around it. Soon, fireworks rocketed out of the ship, nearly hitting the audience at times.

According to other sources, since I couldn’t tell what exactly went on, the Queens Museum won the battle, but really, everyone did, in his or her own way – I even spotted a few audience members lugging chunks of boats back to the 7 train.

For the rest of the photos, go here.