Brothers Mike and Doug Starn's Metropolitan Museum roof installation, "Big Bambú: You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop", opens today, April 27. Barry and I were at the press preview yesterday morning. I'm sharing here a few of the images with which I returned.
I'm not really drawn to openings (of any kind, galleries, performances or film) just for the sake of being there first. There has to be some other lure; it might be the prospect of being around creative friends. And only the promise of something very special, also something which almost has to be experienced in the relative isolation of a preview could normally bring me to the Upper East Side before noon, but there we were yesterday at 11 am, standing in the rain on the roof of the Met, and there wasn't a friend of any kind in sight.
Oh yes, I admit that I was also there because I was looking forward to some terrific, uncrowded photo opportunities, even if we weren't going to be able to scale the heights of the bamboo cloud surrounding us.
It turned out that the "Big Bambú" itself was friendly enough, even if the wet-blankets working at the underwriting desks of the museum's insurance company refused to let anyone enter the internal footpaths. It's a prohibition which can be expected to be applied, throughout the spring, summer and early fall, whenever the surfaces become wet.
The Starn's piece will not move across the roof, as did their earlier bamboo sculpture at the former Tallix factory in Beacon, New York. There the structure, assembled inside an enormous, 320-foot space, was continuously reconstructed by dismantling individual poles and carrying them down the floor to be reassembled into (another?) monumental piece, several times over and over, and then back again.
The forest at the Met will continue to grow in height throughout the spring and summer, and the existing paths constructed within it (in the sky, so to speak) will be extended further during at least much of that time. Visitors who are not so unfortunate as to show up on a drizzly day can expect to encounter a number of sturdy rock climbers, mustered from northern New England and the European Alps, working on the piece above their heads.
The other friendly faces we encountered were those of the Starns themselves. I've been encountering their work for more than 25 years, and I've never been disappointed by what I've seen as they've reconfigured the world around them. On Monday they were completely generous with their time and open to any queries from the press.
"Bambú" likely represents the most complete transformation of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden in the twenty-three years of the space's history. It may also turn out to be the most successful, not least because for its visitors it's probably going to be the most exciting ever.
I thought it was a pretty awesome piece, not least for the fact that its rather serious scale depends on only a rather smallish carbon footprint, and for being a frankly ephemeral construction (ephemeral except in the memory of those who will experience it). The very fact that it was done at all is a remarkable accomplishment for the artists, the Museum, and, yes, that insurance company too.
Now I'm thinking about the piece as art. It's a maze, with elements both random and designed. It's a forest of natural, wooden materials, yet bound together with synthetic, nylon cords. But this "forest" has been planted in the middle of, and yet above, a great artificial metropolis by the hand of man alone. It has been accomplished through the borrowing of the products of nature as well as human genius. It displays attributes of chaos as well as order, and the contributions made by nature and by man both exhibit each of those. Every piece in it was assembled, arranged, and bound into place by artists, although working closely with their collaborators. Every element of the structure has an intelligence and a rhythm. Not one part of it is quite accidental or entirely superfluous.
The forest maze closes forever on October 31. I wish instead that we could flood the roof and watch it grow forever.
the artists: Doug (l.) and Mike