A Living Giant In New York City

Enormous Bamboo Sculpture Nears Its Largest Size on Roof of the Met


Published: October 7, 2010

For the past five months, a giant has been steadily growing on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A massive sculpture in the form of a cresting wave has been constructed entirely out of bamboo and nylon rope, with more added each day. With one month remaining in the exhibition, the sculpture, titled “Big Bambú,” is nearing its final, massive size.

“Big Bambú,” the expansive work of artists Doug and Mike Starn, is on display on the Met roof until Oct. 31. (Catherine Murphy/The Observer)

A look at “Big Bambú,” conceived by artists Doug and Mike Starn, is quite impressive, dazzling in both size and complexity. However, to truly experience this living sculpture is to walk through its elevated pathways, which rise to over 50 feet above the roof of the Met. From this vantage point, the viewer is greeted with cool breezes and spectacular views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. When viewed from within, “Big Bambú” takes on an entirely new dynamic.

The elevated pathways form intersecting tunnels that ascend through the bamboo to platforms looking down on their surroundings. Here and there, a wisteria plant from the Met’s roof garden climbs up through the bamboo, searching for light. “Big Bambú” is arresting at first look, but more time spent there reveals many intricate details that are equally impressive. One example is the spiral staircase leading up the west side of the sculpture with each step designed in a different and fascinating way. Knots are tied in areas that seem impossible to reach, yet remain as proof that someone somehow managed to scale the structure and tie it.

Most astonishing of all perhaps is that the sculpture is both constantly growing and constantly complete. Just like a living body, “Big Bambú” will evolve through stages over its lifetime, but no stage will be any more complete than the one that came before or after. When the exhibition was first opened, the highest point that could be accessed was about 30 feet above the roof. Now, the highest area that can be accessed by visitors is over 50 feet above the roof, and it reaches to over 70 feet at its highest point. It will continue to grow until the exhibition ends on Oct. 31, at which point it will begin to shrink as it is disassembled over the next two months.

The work on the sculpture is being done by a team of rock climbers under the direction of Doug and Mike Starn. The twins behind the project were not always involved in sculpture or engineering or any other trade that would reflect their current exhibition. Rather, they started as photographers in the 1980s, gaining recognition in that medium before turning toward other projects such as “Big Bambú.”

The sculpture on the roof of the Met is actually the second “Big Bambú” project created by the Starn brothers. The original was constructed in a cavernous warehouse in Beacon, New York in 2008. Both projects work to combine art, architecture and performance into stunning and unique bamboo creations. The roof of the Met has never exhibited anything like “Big Bambú” before, and it is highly worthy of a visit before it disappears with the fall.