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Around the galleries

From the rooftop - Pierre Huyghe in New York

— July 2015

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6. Installation view of The Roof Garden Commission Pierre Huyghe at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015

We join Victoria Keller for an interesting exhibition on the roof of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art

‘The Roof Garden Commission: Pierre Huyghe’ Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Whatever is on exhibition, the view  from the Met Museum's roof is one of the great New York pleasures, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening in the summer when the bar is open.  Central Park is laid out in front of you, fringed to the west and south by the Manhattan skyline and you can look in the windows of the Fifth Avenue apartment buildings across the street from the museum to the east.

That said, if you're there for a drink in the summer, you will have to be careful where you step, because, for the Pierre Huyghe (French, b.1962) project, the third in a new series of site-specific commissions for the Met's Roof Garden, a number of the roof's paving slabs have been lifted and set askew so that roughened dirt and rivulets of water can be seen, rather as if an archaeological dig has been taking place on the roof.

And that is quite deliberate.  The artist approaches the space as if were a mine, or an archaeological dig, where layers of earth are peeled back to reveal a resource, some vestige of an earlier era.  The artist's artistic practice is to examine the complex and often contradictory ways in which humans relate to the world; his work is occupied by dynamic elements that shift and flow according to their own rhythms.

Also on the roof is a large aquarium with a floating rock.  The glass sides of the tank switch between transparency and opacity according to an automated program, like a pulse.  A small boulder with holes drilled in it sits nearby. 

A drawing reproduced as part of the wall text shows the aquarium, the boulder and the lifted paving slab areas with the water trickles, connected with other elements which, unfortunately on the day I was there were missing:  a recast version of one of the Museum's ancient sculptures of the Egyptian deity Anubis, and another animal slowly transmuting into mineral through a process that recalls the natural deposit of copper that preserved the body of a sixth-century Chilean miner, now in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.  Clearly the exhibition is in its own state of evolution.

The drawing indicates a dynamic interaction that is missing right now, so hopefully these other elements will be there soon to knit the project together.  The concept of elements shifting and flowing is fine, but without all these elements together, too much is expected of the viewer in coming to grips with the concept through the drawing, the wall text and the lifted paving slabs.

Elsewhere, in the Met Museum's contemporary art wing, ‘Pierre Huyghe:  Human Mask’ presents the New York premier of Huyghe's new 19-minute film, Untitled (Human Mask).  The film opens with a pan of a deserted streetscape near Fukushima, Japan, after the disaster in 2011.  Amid the ruin, the camera enters an abandoned restaurant and finds what appears to be the only survivor:  a monkey wearing a mask and a costume of a young girl.  This is, seemingly, how the owner would have dressed her to work in a sake house, and in this setting she continues to carry out her duties.  This disturbing little film, on show until 9 August, may be about the creature's resilience in the aftermath of disaster, but it is also very spooky.

Pierre Huyghe's work has ranged across diverse media for 25 years, incorporating living animals, plants and insects into his projects, ostensibly to examine the complex and often contradictory ways in which human beings relate to the natural world, and the film and the installation give us a good beginner's introduction to his work.


Victoria Keller
New York

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