As I amble towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a bright summer morning, I am once again struck by its flight of stairs which seem not to lead into one of the world’s most prestigious museums but a haven in which series of beautiful efforts to capture the essence of life could forever reside in peace. All mundane thoughts dissipate and it is as though I am drawn into the works of the past. And yet, concurrently, a sense of awe and helplessness coalesce into a suffocating force. This contrast with the gentle zephyrs in the park ground outside.
Ah, the clouds above me are drifting. How beautiful are the trees, with light creating a natural collage with its leaves! But how can humans imitate this ideal; how can humans reach into the clouds? In this peaceful state of mind I look forward to a special exhibition by my favorite museum.
Tomas Saraceno’s Cloud City (now through November 4, 2012)–a collection of metal framework which puts on display three-dimensional hexagons (polyhedrons) piled together as a super-sized bee hive (or alternatively, as a pod high up in the sky)—is truly an architectural and aesthetic marvel on the 5th floor Roof Garden. When I first enter through the entrance, I notice a web of black metal strings which seems to connect parts of the pods to the floor, though I speculate it might be there for ornamental purposes instead of functional ones. By holding the model in place, it perhaps also brings out a sense of solemn gravity in the hearts of the observers by reminding them just how much this surreal piece of art contrasts with their daily lives. Yet the magic of “Cloud City” stems as much from its simplicity as its complexity. Each side of the hexagon could be transparent glass, reflective steel, or entirely uncovered, thus disorienting our spatial recognition like a magic trick. The atmosphere inside, indeed, creates an illusion of space and the lack of it, something I realize when the lady on duty directed me to continue to move on with the structure when I thought I had already hit the end.
Walking up the structure is not unlike peering into the heart of nature’s mysteries, or even the heart of one’s thoughts. Each pod leads to the next, and I cannot but help wish that this trip would never end. Then and there, I would carefully stretch my hands out into the air, and shyly glance at all the greeneries across at Central Park, and at the crowd beneath you on the Roof Garden. I even smile back at the metallic reflection of myself, and carefully step ahead, a little hesitant at walking towards what may seem like an invisible wall but isn’t. As I wait patiently for others to move on before I too can move to the next pod, I found myself admiring a beautiful scene of a father and sons enjoying their moments of being—the wonderful confusion which we called childhood.
As I step down the stairs toward the end, I glance at the school group who had been with me since I have come up and sat quietly awaiting for my entry time to come. Inwardly, I laugh at the idea that the teacher took many group pictures with the instruction “jump” repeated over and over again, which the children followed acquiescently. The children enjoy the exhibit as much as I did, which is significant, since most works of art required both time and experience for its significance to be recognized. This display, on the other hand, is something that even a child could gaze in awe and affection, something which they could touch and play with.
That is what made this exhibition such a worthwhile and meaningful visit to make during the summer (weather-permitting), even if you just sit down and gaze at the masterpiece from afar in the shade, enjoying the serenity in the morning as well as the cheerful chatter in between. But after you settle yourself comfortably on the bench, an urge would undoubtedly come sooner or later when you see the similarity between the twin trees which coiled elegantly yet stubbornly upward to the skies and the majestic pods in front of you. Both are noble attempts of those who couldn’t fly as they try to reach just a little closer to the sun.
Perhaps the beauty in this would inspire you to move forward too, in ways as simple as going to the fourth floor and obtaining a ticket to access the structure or as significant as daring to dream big.