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The artist’s first major U.S. commission lands at the Met
On Monday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a preview of the latest installation to take root in its Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. Designed by Tomás Saraceno, the installation is the largest of the artist’s Cloud Cities/Airport Cities series, and his first major commission in the United States. Under overcast skies and a sprinkling of rain, the installation’s first visitors—or at least those wearing rubber-soled shoes—clamored through its 16 interconnected modules. Some paused to sit or lie in the structure’s uppermost areas, while others were content to view the constellation of mirrored acrylic forms and nylon webs from the ground. The experience of boarding the structure is disorienting, and the piece gives visitors the impression that it would float away from the rooftop and over Central Park if not tethered to the Met by steel cables.
Saraceno, who participated in the Space Studies Program of the International Space University at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, draws heavily from scientific inspiration in his work. He writes:
“Cloud City’s composition is based on a complex three-dimensional geometry from Weaire-Phelan, which is an idealized foam structure resembling the perfect packaging of spheres with a minimal surface and maximum volume. This could be the best possible geometry for connecting solar flying city atmospheres.
From solid to liquid or gaseous—Cloud City’s composition—a latent molecular foam structure with its infinite variations. It is not one precise arrangement (or explanation or size that matters) but rather their potential to be endlessly recombined and reconfigured, depending on the context of its use, and the interaction of their users yet to be discovered.”
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Cloud City has been two years in the making. Fabrication of the 20-ton piece, which measures 54 feet long by 29 feet wide by 28 feet high, began in December, with installation starting in mid-April. Brooklyn Office Architecture and Design and structural engineer Arup consulted on the design, taking into account both wind loads and the weight of visitors. The polygonal steel modules consist of straight steel members that were assembled off site into individual globes, then hoisted by crane to the roof and bolted to each other and to internal stairs and platforms. Both transparent and acrylic mirrored surfaces are fastened with pop rivets to the structure. The installation’s most organic forms—polyester spider webs that are a hallmark of the artist’s work—were installed last, their placement and shape determined largely by Saraceno on site.
The piece will be on exhibit through November 4, 2012, weather permitting. Because a limited number of visitors may enter the structure (each set of steep stairs accommodates only two people at a time), lines are sure to be long and guests are urged to wear pants and sunglasses because acrylic components are both transparent and reflective. But the payoff is a new view of the city and the experience of feeling the modules shift and react to the weight of those inside them. As Anne Strauss, the Met’s modern and contemporary art curator, commented at the opening, “There’s nothing that is more rewarding and interesting than working with living artists.”