Curvy Mirror Transparency at the Met


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Each spring, when the outdoor Roof Garden at The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens, patrons visit the space to break from the often-overwhelming collections of art and culture displayed throughout the institution’s immense, maze-like interior.

Eagerly, they ride an elevator up to the fifth floor. Doors open, where they shuffle out leftward around a corner hallway to the small terrace to access a unique view of urban landscaping: the top of Central Park’s deciduous canopy. Ogling southward, the mass of treetops trails toward the staunch horizon of the midtown Manhattan skyline.

But, generally speaking, that same cityscape is available any season that the outdoor Roof Garden is open; just the annual art exhibit changes.

Dan Graham–the artist commissioned to design this year’s exhibit–apparently wasn’t very impressed by the sight he saw months ago, when gauging the blank slate of the Roof Garden. He admitted overt dissatisfaction “by the roof because it was a ‘leftover space’ that was not designed for any sort of structure or arts programming,” Sheena Wagstaff, the museum’s Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art, told the press.

Wagstaff continued, saying that Graham knew to collaborate with Swiss landscape architect Gunther Vogt because the latter would likewise be provoked by the “banal relationship between the edges of the boundary wall on the roof garden and the tree tops of Central Park.”

Graham and Vogt’s collective result was Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout, a pavilion that opened to the public Apr 29.

Two parallel, ivy-lined walls line a central concave-convex “S” that’s constructed out of two-way mirror glass. Surrounding, the Garden’s ground is lined with plush AstroTurf. Such synthetic lawn is sensually appealing not only in its playful, consistently green hue, but more so for the soft, crunchy texture your feet feel while strolling about its bristly blades.

Approaching the pavilion’s curving two-way mirror surface, visitors can observe their personal reflections, or try and slink around until they foster the perfect inclusion of the immediate ivy, nearby park trees, and urban towers to surround their own images. The experience is simultaneously transparent; mirror-lookers can gaze beyond their reflections, through the parties present on the other side.

Such a synthesis of simultaneous reflection and transparency is an everlasting standard throughout Graham’s work, who has installed such pavilions all around the world since the late ‘70s. A prolific artist and writer, Graham has lived in New York for decades, and the Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout marks the latest of his many local endeavors. Vogt’s design record includes a wide range of public parks, palace gardens, and assorted outdoor spaces in various countries.

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum, seemed impressed with their work at the inauguration.

“The roof garden has been a site of many artist-led installations and interventions, over the years,” he announced to press. “But I think none have linked the roof garden and Central Park as seamlessly as this one.”

Ian Alteveer, the exhibit’s curator, expressed a similar sentiment when I asked him how he predicted patrons would react to the AstroTurf.

“I could see people bringing picnic blankets, sunscreen, and hanging out,” he says. “In that way, it is very much a park in a sense that it mirrors the hills and lawns of Central Park.” (Disclaimer: The popular Rooftop Garden is often very crowded, but there’s always a chance to relax, nonetheless.)

Photo courtesy of The Metropolian Museum of Art.

Alteveer also agreed with my observation about the inherent transience the two-way glass material offers, which inevitably “changes from hour to hour, from cloudy day to sunny day.”

Perhaps the museum’s staff is satisfied, and incoming visitors can experiment with its glassy versatility, but how does the artist feel?

Dan Graham announced to press that he liked the title Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout and the implicit funhouse and photo-op experiences it provides.

Later, I inquired the artist whether he thought that the final product helped fix the “banal relationship” of the zone.

“Well I think Europeans who come love Central Park and seeing the canopy–and they’ll say they love these buildings,” he admits of the foreign eye.

He continues, flutteringly, that when he himself looks off at New York, he wishes he could see a higher number of buildings made out of two-way mirror glass. During construction, he had a vision of contrasting the “edge of the city” with the “suburban hedges” that line the perimeter of the Garden.

“I see one office building is two-way mirror–one or two–but it’s not enough to satisfy me,” Graham admits, “but I can’t control the new buildings.”

Perhaps Graham himself cannot alter the greater cityscape dynamics to adhere to whatever personal goals he envisions to improve the Rooftop Garden experience–however specific or cryptic his spatial standards may be.

Whatever the case, Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout is all up and accessible, where visitors from near and far can come see the view and toy with their immersive visages.