The opening of a site-specific exhibit by the French artist, Pierre Huyghe, on the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a harbinger of spring. I couldn't wait to see it. This is the third installation in a series of works commissioned by the museum, all of which are meant to explore the relationship of the rooftop to its environs -- that is, to Central Park and to the city.
The first installation, Big Bambu, by the artists Doug and Mike Stan in 2010, combined the architecture and sculpture of bamboo. For that exhibit, visitors hoping to climb the bamboo ranging high overhead, needed timed tickets and rubber-soled shoes. For the less adventurous, there was the sense of walking thru a grove of bamboo . The Big Bambu was a popular and an amusing diversion for us city folk. The Met struck gold with that one.
Then came last year’s installation, Hedge and Two-Way Mirror Walkabout, by Dan Graham and Gunther Vog -- a miracle of grass and glass. An esthetically pleasing vision of a rooftop covered with lush green grass. Grass you could walk on! Grass in the city has a charm all its own, but added to that were see-thru glass sculptures and tall green hedges. Pure and simple, the installation was as inviting as a glass of ice cold water on a hot summer’s day. Another winner. Can you find your intrepid photographer?
Having thoroughly enjoyed both prior installations, I was unprepared for this year's. Arrivingearly on the rooftop, when only security guards and two men setting up the refreshment counter were around, I thought I had made a mistake. Thought the installation was not yet ready for public viewing. Ahead of me were rooftop pavers that had been torn up --as if a plumber had been trying to locate the source of a leak.
Watch Your Step!
It took a minute before I realized that what I had thought a plumbing problem was the artist's vision of a rooftop turned into an archeological dig. Okay, so after they tore up the pavers, did they find any vestiges of an earlier era? A sketch mounted near the entrance offered tantalizing clues: the installation contains traces of oxidized copper, water, fossils, and canine and human remains. I’ve been to archeological digs in Egypt and the Greek isles, but I’ve never seen any as uninteresting as that on the rooftop.
What’s the Story?
Do you see the Plexiglas aquarium In the photo above? Containing two oval boulders and three tiny guppiessuctioning algae off the interior of the aquarium, this display is meant to symbolize the origins of early life. Elsewhere, I came across four weeds—not growing randomly as weeds are wont to do, but growing in a straight row. Other notations on the sketch --Oxidize, Aqua, Tool Stones, Human, Fossils, Auto Generating, Rite Passage—provide a conceptual map of the artist’s thought processes. See for yourself. The walkabout, be it on paper or in the garden, starts at the lower left corner.
Need a Translation?
A plaque reads: Occupying this altered landscape are diverse and dynamic elements that shift or manifest themselves according to their own varied rhythms. Really? Are we saying that seeds sow themselves in tidy rows? That certainly has not been my experience in the garden.
I came way feeling the installation better suited to MoMA than to the rooftop of the Met. But this being the Met, it's possible to find random touches of beauty everywhere. Including a lone flower on a vine.
Here's the clincher. The Met's collection is so vast, so varied and so deep that if one installation doesn't take your fancy, there are hundreds of others to choose from. Me? I'm off to see Van Gogh: Irises and Roses, but first I'm going to grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the view. Isn't that what rooftops are all about?
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