by Rachel Heidenry
With one week left in its nearly seven month run, I finally made it to the MET’s rooftop to see Dan Graham’s installation, Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout. For months, we have all seen tourists posting photographs on the rooftop, smiling with their friends or family, the New York skyline glistening behind them. But always lacking from these photographs is the art – the work – the reason why this public space was created.
Walking onto the rooftop, I began to understand why. It was a gorgeous fall Saturday, sunny and breezy, and the roof was packed. Families had brought snacks as their infants ran around the astroturf, groups of friends sat in circles chatting, and long lines formed to purchase wine and beer at one of two Martini Bars. Security guards had to keep telling people to make room for walking paths, as the perimeter of the roof remained lined with people snapping pictures, pointing, socializing. This was not the rooftop seen in pristine press images – this was a scene.
In the center of it all, was Graham’s installation. Made of curved steel and two-way mirrored glass, the work is situated between two ivy hedgerows designed in collaboration with Swiss landscape architect Gunter Vogt. The skyline of the city reflects on the glass, as does the ivy. With two entrances, the artist invites viewers to enter and experience the changing environment around them, as well as their own bodies reflected. It is a simple work that falls beautifully into the artist’s oeuvre of engaging with themes such as publicness, reception, architecture and suburbia. The interplay of materials – steel, glass, ivy – reflected symbolically (and literally) the architectural sensibility of its site: skyscrapers and Central Park. The work was smart, fitting and inviting.
But during the 30 minutes I wandered around the roof, the installation was rarely engaged. Children were the most participatory, running up to the glass and pressing their faces against it in spurts of joy. People walked by, observed it, but rarely entered. Some did not even acknowledge the work at all – the Martini Bar was their calling. It was clear that the rooftop was a place to socialize, to snap pictures, to take a break from all the art experienced inside. The installation didn’t have to be there. The mere fact that art existed on the rooftop – that it was an open, public space, was enough to get people on the elevator. The work functioned as an excuse, a justification to head to this now iconic site and take in the view. And, let’s face it, I too posed with my friend and took photos overlooking the park. The site and the public it had enabled called for it.
As I began to leave, I couldn’t help but wonder if Dan Graham had fully anticipated this effect and if we had all just been in on some larger institutional critique. And if so, what precisely was he trying to reveal?
The Roof Garden Commission: Dan Graham with Günther Vogt will be on view from April 29 through November 2, 2014 (weather permitting).