Big Bambú

Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through October 31.

Truth be told, I went mainly for the view. The Met isn’t very tall—certainly not by New York City standards—but the building juts into Central Park, and from atop it, you can see the park in a stunning panorama, end to end, with the city skyline as a backdrop. That outlook makes the roof garden exhibits worth visiting under any circumstances, and Big Bambú, an enormous bamboo structure with walkable pathways that take you another forty feet up, seemed like an even better draw simply because it provides an even better view.

I was pleased to find, however, that Doug and Mike Starn’s grand construction is worth seeing for itself. The rooftop sometimes swallows up the art on display there, but Bambú is a site-specific work, and the open air and spectacular views feel like a part of it rather than an overwhelming frame. When you first step out of the stairwell onto the landing, you enter a small forest of bamboo, the stalks rising from the ground to support the structure above. From the side, you can see that the thousands of bamboo poles, bound together by nylon rope, actually take the shape of a cresting wave—a striking image against the blue sky above.

But to really appreciate the work, you have to get inside it, walk along the elevated paths, and perch in the aeries. (Tickets for the guided tour are free. You just have line up in the museum basement at the designated distribution times, pick from the available tours, and then sign away all rights to sue if you fall and break your neck.) All the artistic explanation about how the work is meant to be experienced as an organic entity, enveloping you, reminding you of your smallness as an individual yet also that you are part of something large and beautiful—it all sounds like so much academic bullshit (and I say that without judgment; I have a special place in my heart for academic bullshit) until you get inside.

Walking along the bamboo paths, I embraced the artists’ notion. It felt true. I felt safe as I ran my palms along the stalks and listened to the rustling leaves overhead. The path wends its way through the structure, up toward the sky and then down toward the earth. The bamboo construction looks crazy and haphazard, but countless bindings hold the poles firmly together, giving shape to chaos. Everything is connected.

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