Spaceship Saraceno lands in New York

Monday 28 May 2012

WAN's US Correspondent Sharon McHugh takes a trip to Tomas Saraceno's Cloud City

I’m always amazed at the many ways there are to engage with this city. Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno’s new rooftop sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dubbed ‘Cloud City’, allows visitors to take a walk in the clouds - to experience the city from inside a bubble or bubbles cast from stainless steel, Plexiglas, and mirrors.

The installation, which is Saraceno’s first major U.S. commission and is one in series of similar projects by the artist that explore the ways in which we inhabit and experience the surrounding environment, is 54ft long, 29ft wide and 28ft high. Within the composition of interconnected polyhedron pods, which are welded and bolted together, is a staircase that allows visitors to explore each ‘pod’ as they make their way to the top to enjoy spectacular views of Central Park and the city beyond.

A word of caution to the faint of heart as the experience negotiating Cloud City’s prismatic floors and walls can be disorienting for some while altogether thrilling for others, like the bungee jumping set, which is an important point of this work that cannot be overlooked. Cloud City has mass appeal. It is something that will delight visitors of any age. As such, it is breathing new life into the otherwise sober Metropolitan Museum of Art, attracting a hipper and younger audience which, whether one likes it or not, is a populist approach to curating that many cultural institutions are embracing in order to survive.

Barely open a couple a days, Saraceno’s installation is attracting throngs of visitors and has ‘gone postal’ in the media, with art types and travel writers mostly glowingly weighing in on the piece, including one writer from Forbes magazine who said: “ If you have but one day to spend in New York, Saraceno’s Cloud City is a must see!”

I couldn’t agree more. Together with Neil Denari’s HL23, which in my estimation is the best building to be built in New York City in the past year, Saraceno’s installation is not to be missed. When you live in a global city as this one and you are part of the press corps, which means you have access to almost everything, it is that rare object, building, or event that can impress those of us privileged enough to see it all. And, Saraceno’s Cloud City, is one of them.

On my visit, I climbed the whimsical structure, which the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith compared to a jungle gym, right after a man who had worked with Buckminster Fuller on a number of his Geodesic domes. I could see the obvious appeal this structure would hold for such a person, as Cloud City bears a likeness to Fuller contraptions: both are similar in geometry. Yet Saraceno’s structure is infinitely more complex than Fuller’s were as it is asymmetrical, with no sides alike.

Saraceno’s Cloud City is a breath of fresh air; a work that is at once thought-provoking and transcendent. And yet there is also something quite retro about it, recalling as it does some of the amazing Metabolism structures of days past, like the one pictured here (see left) of Expo Tower designed by Kikutake Kiyonori for the 1970 Expo in Osaka.

Tomás Saraceno’s Cloud City is on view now through 4 November 2012 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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