Tomás Saraceno’s Cloud City

Friday, May 18, 2012
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One of 16 steel and acrylic modules is hoisted by crane to the Met's rooftop (Tomás Saraceno)

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.

  • Fabricator and Designer Tomás Saraceno
  • Location New York, New York
  • Status Installation
  • Materials Steel, acrylic, polyester cord
  • Process Installation modeling and engineering, assembly by hand

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.”

3 Responses to “Tomás Saraceno’s Cloud City”

  1. Sam says:

    There has been to reference or mention of the fabricator for this project, Milgo Bufkin, and all the specialists who put in an enormous of effort for two years to work out the detailing of this project.
    they deserve a lot of credit.

  2. Steve says:

    2000 years ago in China, the “maker” of the bell was the guy who paid for it. Today we acknowledge the artist (hero) and leave everyone with the impression that the objects/paintings/installations were personally handcrafted in their own studio (garage). This is a prejudice left over from the world of painting and is archaic. Let’s begin an era of acknowledging the artist for their brilliance but also the “makers” of art. This was done at without whom this would never have been possible. They are in Brooklyn, have been making art since the early 60’s, and the landscape is littered with their work. Tomas, ARUP, the Met, and BOAD are all brilliant but could not have pulled this off without Milgo Bufkin.

  3. Steve says:

    On another note, the installation, no small feat, was done by Graham Stewart and his crew at Their work, in keeping everyone organized, safe, and without any damage to a very complex and dangerous installation is just as brilliant as the rest. Their isn’t a major gallery or museum in New York that hasn’t depended upon them when no one else could figure out how to get something very valuable, very complicated, into or out of a tight squeeze. In short, if you need to get a shark tank into the Met or build an addition to its roof in two days, they are your guys.

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