Big Bambú: You Can’t, You Don’t and You Won’t Stop


To the sound of rain falling on its Roof Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled its latest and most ambitious site-specific installation to date. Conceived by Mike and Doug Starn, American-born (1961) identical twin brothers whose work often combines photography, painting, video and installation. Big Bambú is a living, evolving structure, composed of about 5,200 bamboo poles lashed together with nylon climbing rope. It was constructed on site by the artists and a team of rock climbers working ten hour days for two-months. (See Eleanor’s photos of the exhibit in Snapping Around).

Visitors will be able to enjoy the structure’s ongoing process of growth, either by observation from the Roof Garden or by walking up the bamboo pathways that rise to between twenty to forty feet above ground. Tickets are required for the guided pathway tours. By the end of October, when the Roof Garden closes, the structure will have swollen in size and shape until it forms an enormous wave covering an area about 100 feet by 50 feet, and soaring from West to East about 50 feet off the ground.

Like a growing organism – or an interconnected network – construction will continue, so that part of the process of the art experience for the viewer will be watching the rock climbers at work in the act of building, attaching and connecting the bamboo poles, ranging in length from 15 to fifty feet. At the same time, the color of the bamboo will deepen as it is exposed to the weather. In short, what one will see at the end will not resemble what one saw at the beginning.

Before getting into what the Starn brothers had in mind when creating Big Bambú, which is part sculpture, architecture, and performance, it needs to be said that, even in the rain, it’s a stunning, imaginative and rich piece of work. As with Roxy Paine’s sculpture, it takes advantage of and frames the New York skyline, regardless of where you look.

But unlike the 12 preceding pieces of roof art at the Met, this one not only invites participation but, through its lovely use of bamboo, gives one the sense of being in a man-made forest where, looking up and around, the eye is always surprised by the crisscross patterns of nature and sky.

The Starn brothers are best known for their photographs of natural, organic systems and structures, from trees and leaves to snow flakes. Attracted to Buddhism, they embrace the contradictory notion that this work is “always complete, yet always unfinished.” Doug Starn says, “The reason we had to make it so big is to make all of us feel small….Once we’re aware of our true stature we can feel a part of something much more vast than we could ever have dreamed of before.” This piece of sculpture embodies their deeply held views of the world.

At the official opening, finishing each other’s sentences, the Starn brothers said, “Everything is always changing, growing, interdependent. The only constant is change.”

It’s not easy to embody “constant change” in a work of art. Few have succeeded as well as Big Bambú. I look forward to watching it grow over the Spring, Summer and Fall. Like Christo’s, “The Gates,” it will be one of the “must see” experiences of New York. Utterly unique and beguiling.

Special Tickets to Climb the Pathways. Tickets for short, guided tours are free with Museum admission and will be available daily on a first-come, first-served basis at the Uris Center for Education at 81st Street and Fifth Avenue. Morning tour tickets will be released at 9:30 AM; afternoon tour tickets at noon. On Fridays and Saturdays, evening tours will be available, and tickets will be released at 3:30. Bring a photo ID and wear closed, rubber-soled shoes. To check on whether the installation is closed because of weather, call 212-396-5300. For more detailed information go to: www.metmuseum.org/special/bigbambu

April 27 through October 31, 2010

Image: Big Bambú installation view, March 2010
Photo by Doug and Mike Starn

© 2010 Mike and Doug Starn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

2 Responses to Big Bambú: You Can’t, You Don’t and You Won’t Stop

  1. Stephanie Russell-Kraft says:

    Fascinating exhibit! I hope to check it out soon.

  2. vmanlow says:

    This is really impressive. Can’t wait to see it. Great photos!

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