Hot, Wet Island

Hot, Wet Island

Courtesy FRISP

With all the hype surrounding the coming of the Cornell NYC Tech campus to Roosevelt Island (Silicone Valley of the East, etc.), what was once a sleepy, out-of-the-way quarter of the city is set to under go a major transformation. As one example, community group Friends of the Roosevelt Island Steam Plant (FRISP) is pushing a proposal before state and city officials to transform the district’s now-decommissioned steam plant into a New York version of the Tate Modern.

Built in 1936 and located beside the Queensboro Bridge and directly behind the Roosevelt Island tram station, the steam plant is an art deco edifice that served the Goldwater Hospital and other customers on the island. The facility’s period mechanical systems have been meticulously maintained over the years, making it an artifact in its own right. FRISP hopes to use this preserved infrastructure as a framework into which to place a venue for the “convergence of art, science, and technology” to be known as The S.T.E.A.M. (an acronym standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Plant. The project would host a mix of exhibitions on subjects that link the disciplines of art and science, such as the geometry of color and light, the physics of dance, or the science of haute cuisine.


To drum up support for the project and illustrate the building’s potential as a unique destination space, Manon Sloam, the chief curator of non-profit arts organization No Longer Empty, has proposed using the plant to host a temporary exhibition by conceptual artist Mel Chin. The exhibition could be opened as soon as the fall of 2015 after Chin’s retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art becomes available and he has the time to create a site-specific installation. Chin’s work combines art and science, and some have called him an earth artist for his environmental pieces on polluted factory sites. He is currently working on a project in New Orleans called Operation Pay Dirt, which seeks to address lead poisoning in the ground.

According to FRISP, there’s no telling what would need to be done to the building to prepare it for the temporary exhibition, though it suspects that none of the existing steam infrastructure would need to be removed. In the group’s opinion, the most that would need to be done is cleaning the space, setting up a temporary entryway from the tram station, and building the displays.