Gay City: Andy Goldsworthy

"Stone Houses"

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A version of this review was published in Gay City ("Building Blocks Meet the Sky: the Met’s annual roof garden installation incorporates nature"):

They all say, “Have you been up to the roof garden at the MET?  Oh, you should go.  So and so and I went just the other night.  It’s open late you know.  There’s free music.  And a bar.”

All true, but they warn you not.  You will endure pastel tee-shirts of every hue, whole families and extended families winding down their day in NYC, the next best thing to Great Adventure.

True, as well, the city welcomes people from all over—and yes, even tourists.  And you went to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, right?  And that made you feel like you were in a Fassbinder movie for weeks.  

So, yes, brave the jam-packed elevator, brave the busloads of tourists, brave, worst of all, the thought that someone might think you’re a tourist yourself—brave it all to go see the Andy Goldsworthy installation of white cedar split-rail domes housing ovoid granite stones stacked in towers.

Goldsworthy, born in Chesire, England, is known for creating work of and in the natural landscape.  In the Cantor Roof Garden’s first site-specific sculptural installation, Goldsworthy has echoed not only the architecture of the city and the museum, and the trees and limestone of Central Park (itself an echo of the wild Manhattan), but has contextualized the misfortune of being right.  Goldsworthy, along with Bill Viola and other artists, have brought a Zen-like equanimity to sculpture.  In the wake of the brutal constructions of, for example, a Richard Serra, the revolution, though quiet, was inevitable.  Now, of course, the revolution is all but won, and the aesthetic has not only taken over the Metropolitan’s Roof Garden but ABC carpets.  (Michael Phelan, a successor to Goldsworthy, targets his sculpture at the zenifiaction of the American Mall.)  There is a creepy significance to Goldsworthy’s placement of his stone towers inside his wooden houses.  The analogue is to the treatment of art inside the museum, and the viewer is drawn to the old homily: “Those in glass houses shall throw no stones.” 

To Manhattanites, the sense that the vista of our city is the vista of the world is more politically and historically true than ever.  We are not exactly Americans, not exactly Europeans.  We are the black sheep of the first world, and the target of the third world, and we are adored by all.  And, we’re here—sometimes on our roof garden—ineluctably attuned to the question of who will toss the next stone, and who it’s gonna hit.