The other day I saw a giant bird on the crescent moon. It was a small staircase, clutching the entire scene – an installation by conceptual artist and designer of immersive environments Alex Da Corte – on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum, tucked into a corner of New York City’s most spectacular courtyard . .
The piece instantly brought me back to my favorite Italo Calvino short story, “The Distance of the Moon,” about the good old days when the Earth and its moon were nearly close enough to kiss. Walking to the nearest point of view, the narrator and his friends will head up the ladder and leap across the lunar surface, where they fiercely eat cheese.
For its 2021 Roof Garden Commission, which opens on Friday, Da Corte taps into a similar vein of straight-faced irony. The bird “as long as the sun lasts” – its title borrowed from another Calvino story – is a full-size, custom-made, blue but otherwise unmistakable Big Bird, beloved Sesame Street denizen. Gazing vigorously at the oligarchs south of Central Park, it looks torn, uncertain whether to climb back to Earth or fly forever.
Constructed from stainless steel and covered with 7,000 hand-held aluminum wings, the bird gently swings from one end of a long pole 20-feet tall to the floor. (Its ladder is certainly too short.) Five brightly colored metal disks attached to the other end of the pole are a node for Alexander Calder’s floating mobile, or at least their mass-market nursery knockoff. The base of the installation, three interlocking stainless-steel blocks with modular plastic-like rounded corners, are also painted Calder Red.
The Met Roof Commission is not easy to pull off. The artist not only competes with the breathtaking vista of Central Park flanked by a jungle of Manhattan luxury towers, but also with the aura of the treasury house below. Whichever artist chooses to mount will be immediately Instagrammed to death in the endless heat of a selfie. So such a triumphant impromptu crowd-pleaser, who turns a soft circle without ever getting anywhere, may simply be a satire of da Corte’s, if not particularly biting, response to the assignment: Why try Why not just give people what they want to go somewhere?
But it would not account for his inferiority of indifference to the path of an innocent creature in the grip of a big decision. Da Corte has spent his artistic career as others – dressing up as rapper Eminem, even accepting Alexander Calder’s signature on the basis of this sculpture – and elaborate installations that take you to another world Gives the feeling of wandering, brightly colored but again uncontrolled.
(The museum received informal permission for the project from the Calder Foundation and Sesame Street.)
Born in New Jersey, he spent his early childhood in Venezuela, where he saw a Brazilian version of “Sesame Street” called “Ves Sesamo”. The show is the Big Bird equivalent, Garibaldo, blue. But the characters don’t quite resemble each other – if you can ignore them being both man-birds – and this bird’s blue is not the same as Gariballo’s. What this bird’s tint actually says, whether you’ve ever seen Garibaldo or not, is a confused memory, or “Yamis Wu” – unlike Déjà Vu, the feeling that something familiar is suddenly strange.
Jameis Wu must have had the artist’s experience of moving to the US at the age of 8. It’s certainly unremitting for everyone this past year, as ordinary life suddenly became impossible and bizarre new habits – wiping groceries, wearing a mask, or two – cycling in and out of practice. I suspect that most visitors to Canter Roof Gardens will be asking themselves if this was indeed the place it was before this Epidemic. (The answer is, of course not: there used to be a roof garden strip.)
A Blue Big Bird also features a disturbing scene in the 1985 children’s film “Follow that bird,” Starring Sesame Street characters and puppets. Captured, taken captive and painted her in a tinge of sadness, the two Carnival griffers force Big Bird to perform a song called “I’m So Blue” – and then rake in the cash. As a metaphor for the artist’s relationship – with Da Corte, for example, Sunshine as innocent, and Met as his prisoner – the context would be much easier. But as a picture of childhood innocence, which we all learn to imprison and are subjected to the compassionate demands of adult life, it is heartbreaking.
Everything about the piece – from the character itself to graphic shapes and colors such as calendars such as mobile and preschool play-set bases – indicate the craze. But recognizing eccentricity as a scene is not the same as feeling eccentric. In fact, it can sometimes feel like the opposite, a regret-saturated reminder that lies behind the consternation of our days. We have bills to pay, products to sell, statements to wage, statements to make, reviews to write. It is not our fault that we can no longer reach the moon. Our Lunds are still very young.
The truth is that “as long as the sun lasts” appeals to me in a militant way, realizing I was suspicious. Seeing a famous children’s character in space still devoted to old-fashioned ideas of high culture made me feel as if someone is getting away from something. But when the wind blew and Big Bird started swinging, it was surprisingly thrilling. I wanted a ride of my own. I also reached out to touch Big Bird’s feet. Was a few inches out of reach.
Alex da Corte: As long as the sun lasts
From April 16 to October 31, Canter Roof Gardens, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org