An intern in Cloud City

Currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roof Garden, Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno’s “Cloud City” installation looks like a hip modern artist designed a playground for the moon but took a detour for the museum's roof.

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With tourist season upon us, you might be tempted to avoid major attractions like the Met, but be careful that you don’t cheat yourself out of a rare opportunity.  Currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno’s “Cloud City” installation features large, interconnected modules constructed from transparent and reflective materials. The exhibit opened May 15 and runs through November 4 (weather permitting).

“Cloud City” looks as if a hip modern artist designed a playground for the moon but took a detour and landed on the roof of the Met.  According to their website, the exhibit strives to expand “the ways in which we inhabit and experience our environment.” From a first-hand perspective, the installation succeeds in this endeavor. Both structurally and experientially, “Cloud City” asks the viewer to contend with irregularities in spatial organization and challenge our assumptions of limitations in physical design. As we embrace new ideas of building sustainable and resilient cities, this exhibit makes the prospect of inhabiting new urban spaces feel exciting, not scary.

Visitors may view the exhibit at anytime from the Roof Garden, but a timed ticket (no extra charge*) is required for entry inside the installation. Timed tickets are available on the fourth floor throughout the day in 15-minute intervals–I arrived shortly before noon and received an entry ticket for 12:30 pm.

Timed ticket in hand, you enter the structure via a small staircase and are immediately surrounded by irregular panels secured in place by a network of cables. The panels–some transparent, others reflective–interconnect to create modules large enough to accommodate several people. Most of the time while inside “Cloud City,” you are actually elevated well above the roof level.  The presence of several docents inside the structure is reassuring; you never quite know when you’ll catch a sunbeam right in the eye, or when you’ll look down and realize that you’re high up in the air, supported only by a transparent platform and some cables. I have no doubt about the stability of the structure, but for those of us with weak stomachs the experience is disconcerting to say the least. “Cloud City” demands hyperawareness of your body and the space through which it moves, stimulating feelings of caution and playfulness at the same time.

Every time I turned to take in a new angle, I had to question if whether what I was seeing was a reflection or “real.” On one platform, I found myself looking at the trees of Central Park in a mirror, then, just a few steps over I took the opportunity to stop and gaze out of an open side, resting my elbows while taking in the city below. I didn’t fully grasp the significance of the exhibit’s title –“Cloud City”–until I was enjoying the cool breeze and a bird’s eye view of Central Park, the Met, and people running, walking, biking, and driving on the streets below.

After exiting the structure, I had a new appreciation for the complexity of the structures that–for better or worse–guide our everyday lives. Whether you actually climb the exhibit, or just circle its perimeter, this installation offers ways to challenge and expand perceptions of city space. If all else fails, there’s always the view and the rooftop bar.

*Met admission suggested rates: $25/adults, $17/seniors, $12/students (some NYC students may enjoy free admission). But feel free to take the “suggested” part literally. As a grad student/unpaid intern, I didn’t hesitate to “suggest” my own price and paid a mere $5 for a full day’s admission.

Photos: Megan McRobert