Sunday, November 18, 2012

Our Heads in the Clouds

Having had so much fun in 2010 exploring Doug and Mark Starn's Big Bambu on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art two years ago, it was a no-brainer that we would also go to see Tomas Saraceno's Cloud City, which was constructed on the Met rooftop earlier this year and closed on November 4th. Big Bambu taught us that it was best to go on a weekday to avoid long waits, which meant pre-planning. Who, us, pre-plan? Ha! And when summer arrived, we specifically planned NOT to go in the summer heat. And then, what with one thing and another, suddenly it was the weekend before closure. THEN we planned to go and suffer through the long lines we envisioned, when what should happen but Hurricane Sandy. The best laid plans of mice and women... Oy!

When the final weekend came, we wondered whether Cloud City would be open to visitors, since the Met website specifically stated that the site would close during inclement weather. We had all our fingers and toes crossed. How could we possibly face our friends and admit we lived in New York City, had six months - SIX - to visit Cloud City, and failed to take advantage of this unique opportunity? Imagine our great relief and delight when we learned it had reopened for visitors. 

The Met posted a list a mile long of what one can't bring into Cloud City, and we followed all the rules to a T, even going so far as to bring flat rubber soled shoes with us to change into before ascending into the structure. (One poor staffer had the job of telling people they couldn't go up with leather-soled or high-heeled shoes. She apologetically singled out Valerie, until Valerie showed her the flat rubber soles in her bag. The staffer breathed an audible sigh of relief, and then complimented us both on being prepared. Clearly, a number of would-be visitors had not read the not-so-fine print.)

In Cloud City, Saraceno, an Argentinian artist now living in Germany, provides a participatory experience similar to (although slightly less hair-raising than) last year's tubular slides in Carsten Holler's installation at the New Museum. Here and there in the photos you can see cables strung in web-like fashion inside some of the pods.  (See the second photo in particular.)  Unconventional construction for an unconventional structure.  We asked what extra measures they'd taken to hold Cloud City in place during the hurricane, and were told no special measures had to be taken since it was designed to withstand winds up to 95 mph.  Here is Valerie descending the stairs in the final section of the structure. 

Here is Jean doing likewise.

One of the benefits of placing such an art piece on the Met's rooftop is its proximity to Central Park. The historic Dakota apartment building is visible in this western view across the park.

New York Times art critic Roberta Smith referred to Cloud City as the latest example of "scientific-based fun-house formalism", and it was certainly that. Some windows were transparent and some were mirrored, making it somewhat disorienting, but always interesting, to navigate. Although we were expecting something much taller, from which it would be dizzying to see the rooftop, this molecular looking structure was only 28 feet high. While Big Bambu required a 20-minute guided tour (including stops at strategic locations for gaping and gasping), Cloud City was small enough that strategically posted employees could see us coming and going, and we could, to some degree, pace ourselves. (In truth, however, this was actually quite annoying, since it thwarted any attempts to flaunt the rules by taking surreptitious photographs.)

Composed of a series of 16 interconnected 12-sided and 14-sided polyhedrons that visitors can climb up into and walk through, each of the pod-like structures is comprised of clear plexiglass and polished steel panels. Walking through or under or over the combination of see-through and reflective surfaces is somewhat disconcerting, which is the idea behind the piece. Roberta Smith wrote that by being reflective or see-through, "they greatly complicate and even discombobulate the experience of the structure and everything around it."  We couldn't agree more.  Just the thing for us!

Jean took this picture of our reflection shooting upward, making us look about 4 feet tall.

The foreshortening effect of the reflections definitely contributed to the fun-house effect. Here we look like we're about 2 feet tall.  (Where's the angle that makes us look 6 feet tall, and size 6?  Sheesh!)

Before we departed the Met's rooftop, we paused to take advantage of the views. Looking south, the angle of the afternoon sun created an other-worldly effect.

We can't wait to see what they'll come up with next summer!

What we're wearing:
Jean is wearing an Amy Downs turban; quilted coat by HIGH use; slacks by Ronan Chen; flat, rubber soled black nylon trainers by Columbia.

Valeie is wearing an unlabeled vintage curly lamb hat, scarf by Tiiti Tolonen, coat by Searle, shirt by Jill Anderson (unseen), corduroy pants by Oska, great big fat flat comfy MMA-approved rubber soled shoes by Mountrack.

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