October ArtHop: Met’s Big Bambú is Worth Experiencing

October 18, 2010 at 12:33 am Leave a comment

Big Bambú, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2010. Photo by author.

“It’s a bird nest, it’s a treehouse, it’s an ocean wave?”
No, it’s Big Bambú.  It’s Big Bambú: You Can’t , You Don’t and You Won’t Stop to be exact.  And yes, it’s big and made of bamboo.
On view April 27th – October 31st, 2010.

Located on the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the exhibition consists of one work- an immense sculpture that visitors can survey from the deck,  walk underneath, and, if lucky, venture inside.
Since April 2010 twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn, along with a team of rock climbing assistants,  have been sculpting 5,000 bamboo poles and more than 50 miles of nylon rope to create this site-specific installation .  Unlike most of the Met’s past roof exhibitions of sculpture, this work is an ever-changing, work in progress.  The artists continue to  shape Big Bambú while it’s open to the public.  In fact, team can frequently be observed manipulating the form and documenting their work.

At Work, Big Bambú, Met, October 2010. Photo by author.

The atmosphere is something between spectacle and playground-like.  Museum visitors eagerly snaps photos as they gaze in awe of the team members at work 50 feet in the sky.  The crew also take pictures, but not of the crowd.  As one of the team member’s balances on the edge of the sculpture, she captures their work for documentation purposes.  The museum and artists have posted various photos of the progressing work on Flickr.

Big Bambú, October 2010. Photo by author.

In contrast to the general demeanor witnessed within the museum’s galleries, the visitors are more in a play mode.  There is, of course, a sense of freedom created just by the outdoor space. However, the colossal work generates much of the excitement.  People don’t know what to make of Big Bambú.  Although most of the visitors probably had some of idea of the exhibition before reaching the rooftop which is somewhat off the beaten track, the size of the work and sense of danger that emanates from the work overwhelms them.  Noting the fragility of the materials, visitors stand in amazement of the composition. They scrutinize the brightly colored thin but abundant roping.  Some people playfully test the poles and remark on how the structure moves when tugged.

For those visitors who arrived on the roof via the stairs and without prior knowledge about the exhibition, the work is completely bewildering.  Because the exhibition text panel is located at the rear of the deck, underneath the structure near the snack bar, the surprise isn’t quickly relieved by textual explanations.  Most visitors have to experience Big Bambú before finding the exposition.  And in this case that’s perfectly OK.  Although prominent placement of interpretative text is often useful in museums, here it would get in the way of the work.  Because  Big Bambú is really more than the sculpture.  It’s everything: the sculpture, the experience of being with and inside the work, and the evolution of the form.  Visitors should feel the wonder of it before relying on the curatorial note.

To travel along the elevations within the sculpture, visitors need tickets for the guided tour.  From inside the structure visitors gain a different perspective of the work and the city skyline.  Unfortunately, all of the tickets  were already dispersed when I arrived at the museum.  Most of the visitors were in the same situation.  Because tickets are only available in person, it is very difficult to obtain them, especially on weekends.
Even so, art hopping to Big Bambú was worth it.  As I enjoyed the afternoon, I overheard several fellow museum visitors commenting on the work:

Big Bambú, October 2010. Photo by author.

“If I had my choice of any place to live in the city, it would be right here.” – a woman said to her friends as she stared up into the web of poles
“Imagine how many panda bears these poles could feed.” – a mother talking to her son
“It’s cool. It’s awesome!” –  a couple of 20 somethings
“It’s uber cool!” – a young tourist
“I’m just baffled.” – an older man notes to one of the guards
“What is this supposed to be?” – a man asks one of the other visitors
“Is it real?”-  a small boy asks his mom

Big Bambú, October 2010. Photo by author.

Yes, it is real.  You can touch it and, if you are an early bird, you just might be able walk inside it.  But even if you can’t get tickets, venturing around and underneath Big Bambú is still a pleasure.
Hopefully, the collaborative nature of the work and viewing experience compounded with the materials and the urban skyline will inspire people to consider the larger environment beyond the Met’s rooftop that is also composed of a series of natural and societal networks.
Weather permitting, you have until October 31st to be a  part of  this monumental experience.

Entry filed under: Art, Memorials/Monuments, Museums, Photography. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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