Starn Twins’ Big Bambú May Travel after the Met

The crowd on a recent Friday evening. (Jason Edward Kaufman © 2010)

Since unveiling their rooftop installation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the twins Doug and Mike Starn have been deluged with invitations from organizations around the world seeking to replicate the popular piece. “It’s been amazing,” said Mike Starn, hanging out beneath Big Bambú, the bamboo structure that he and his brother designed. Interest has been “global,” he said, explaining that he would rather not mention any of the institutions that have approched them. First, he and his brother have to decide whether it makes sense to launch a Big Bambú world tour. A road show would ratchet up their renown, but would demand not only a great deal of attention, but material and administrative logistics on a massive scale.  They have yet to make up their minds.

Mike Starn with Big Bambú installation on the roof of The Metropolitan Museum. (Jason Edward Kaufman © 2010)

Meanwhile, the 40-foot high and 100-foot-long lattice of bamboo poles has turned the roof of the Metropolitan into an invitingly shady grove unlike anything ever undertaken by the venerable museum. It’s composed of thousands of 30- and 40-foot-long bamboo poles crossing one another at angles and bound together at their intersections with miles of nylon rope. A stair leads to an elevated walkway where specially ticketed visitors (wearing rubber-soled shoes) listen to guides offer explanations of the piece while perched more than 20 feet above the rooftop. According to the museum, attendance since the opening on April 27 has topped 180,000 and tours on the elevated pathways are fully subscribed.

The Starn twins (b. 1961) title the piece Big Bambú: You Can’t, You Don’t, and You Won’t Stop – the second part is a Beastie Boys lyric – and indeed, construction is ongoing throughout the show. A team of rock climbers – from 4 to 10 at a time, supervised by the Starns and paid $25/hour by the Met — is heightening the piece and cantilevering its wavelike form out over the park. (The engineering is all permitted and approved by City authorities.) They are extending the  elevated pathway to allow for longer aerial tours later in the show’s run. It closes October 31, 2010.

South end of the structure. (Jason Edward Kaufman © 2010)

The ongoing construction is a key aspect of the piece, which the artists say is emblematic of the constancy of change.  “People are afraid of chaos, but then they like it,” observed Mike Starn, and if the atmosphere on the roof was any indication, he had a point. The structure’s arbitrary angles, unfinished natural material, and hand-lashed joints exuded an informality and ingenuity that infected and delighted the crowd. The scene was less like a gallery at the Met than a tropical cocktail party, with thousands of visitors chatting while sipping beer or mixed drinks and taking in the views of Central Park and the city skyline.

Flooring of Big Bambú walkway. (Jason Edward Kaufman © 2010)

Many paused to take pictures of the work and of themselves posing within it. Few of them noticed Mike Starn himself, looking extremely casual among the crowd. I pointed out to him that he must be pleased to have a successful solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, yet to be able to show up wearing a worn tee shirt. “Man,” he said with a smile. “That’s it exactly.”


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Jason Edward Kaufman is an art historian and critic with expertise in museums and the international art world.

A complete list of past articles is available here.


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