Like the Roman naval Battle of Actium in 31 BC, where a fleet of mobile Octavian vessels sacked Mark Anthony’s artillery, thus beginning the Roman Empire, the Brooklyn Museum’s battleship was boarded and turned over in minutes by their Queens rivals in an epic and chaotic conflict on the shores of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
It was all part of Queens Museum of Art resident artist Duke Riley’s “Those About to Die Salute You” participatory art installation on August 13, which featured a toga party in the Queens Museum and an AC/DC cover band called Hell-Bent Hooker, culminating in a thirty-minute naval battle in the park’s World’s Fair-era reflecting pool with tiered stadium seating.
Teams of museum employees from the Queens Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and El Museo del Barrio (Manhyattan), were invited to wage war against each other (and make their own costumes), with their ships would be provided by Riley and his coterie of artists.
When Brooklyn Museum staff members received the invitation from Queens Museum Executive Director, Tom Finkelpearl, two weeks ago, they leapt at the opportunity to conquer their arts-professional brethren from neighboring boroughs once and for all.
“We did a little bit of training get ready for this,” said Shelly Bernstein, Brooklyn Museum Chief of Technology and Team Captain.“Will Cary, our membership manager, was reading naval strategy on Wikipedia at night and he ran a strategy session for the team a few days ago.We also did runs to get wigs and blue makeup, blue hairspray.We looked like smurfs.”
At 8:30 PM, hundreds of revellers dressed in togas and armed with tomatoes surrounded the reflecting pool, waiting for the battle to commence, while “Eye of the Tiger” and “Another One Bites the Dust” blasted through the PA system.The Queens Museum’s sturdy vessel entered the pool first to the delight of the mostly pro-Queens crowd, followed by a yellow canoe that resembled the Staten Island Ferry.The Brooklyn Museum’s gray battleship, a reference to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, entered the pool ten minutes later, to the sounds of “Gonna Fly Now”, but the juxtaposition between their inspirational entrance music and their pitiful defeat proved too jarring for this reporter’s eyes.
“Brooklyn is losing!They’re surrounded!” shouted a Queens Chronicle reporter, ducking dozens of vegetable projectiles, as the Brooklyn Museum’s battleship was boxed into the east corner of the pool and an eager crowd began chanting “Queens!Queens!Queens!”
“Oh God!They’ve boarded Brooklyn!” shouted a Brooklyn resident and museum patron, covering her eyes.
At approximately 8:40 PM, Queens gladiators ransacked the Brooklyn battleship, gently nudging Brooklyn staff members into the water and flipping their ship over.It floated there for the rest of the evening, until fished out by museum volunteers.When reached the next morning in her Brooklyn Museum’s office, Bernstein commented on her team’s defeat.
“We were the second to go down or maybe the third.I think it was Staten Island first, because Bronx and Brooklyn were going after Staten Island.Then, we really don’t know what happened,” said Bernstein.“Clearly our naval strategydid not work.We definitely held the boat until we were capsized.After that, we were definitely out.We were drowned.”
Friends of the Brooklyn museum who witnessed the conflict were in disbelief, claiming that Brooklyn actually emerged victorious.
“We won!” said Brooklyn resident Marisa Swope.“We had the best cheer too.Did you hear it?Brook-LYNN!”
In the aftermath of the colossal defeat, Bernstein reflected on the experience, saying she was surprised by how many people were dressed in togas and that she enjoyed meeting many Museum friends who she had only known through online social networks.Unfortunately, the ride back to Brooklyn from Corona was the longest, smelliest stretch she had been on,
“It was just awful in terms of how much sludge was on you,” said Bernstein. “It was the best shower I’ve ever taken in my life.”