ARCHIVE/Art Exhibitions

Tomas Saraceno on the Roof: “Cloud City”

Written by Aksel Ritenis

The interior appears submarine-like at first, with its steep stairs, small spaces, and scattered nets of elastic rope. But submarines rarely have floors of mirrored steel and clear acrylic, nor do they offer panoramic views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. Perhaps “Cloud City” is a starship. Imagine a craft with multiple pods, and walls that are transparent, reflective, or left open to space. Argentine artist, Tomas Saraceno, created this intriguing structure of 16 connected modules that will reside on the roof of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until November 4th. It is well worth seeing. Positioned at sky-level, but anchored to the floor, the site-specific installation is grounded and airborne, dizzying and disorienting, futuristic and fantastical.

A limited number of daily visitors with timed entry tickets are admitted to “Cloud City” for twenty minutes apiece, weather permitting. Safety restrictions apply—rubber-soled shoes are required, for example. Though uncertain how seriously to take these mandates, I was grateful I’d heeded the museum’s warning to wear pants, as portions of the interior are visible from outside and below. This translucence and the abundance of mirrored panels unnerved me initially. I feared that my foot would crash through clear flooring and hesitated to step on a reflection of my torso. Unsurprisingly, a fellow visitor complained of vertigo as she too maneuvered her way up inclines, under arches, and between modules.

That, according to Saraceno, is the intention. We are meant to experience uncertainty as we contemplate our surroundings. “’Cloud City’ is an invitation to perceive simultaneously a multiplicity of realities, making overlapping and multireflective connections between things, affecting and challenging our perceptions,” he has said. The museum reports that the architect-turned-artist “envisions floating or flying cities that defy traditional notions of space, time, and gravity.” This work is based on his interest in developing alternative means of inhabiting the environment, with an emphasis on “sustainable visions for future communities.”

If “Cloud City” serves as a viable model, the future is spectacular. Central Park’s Obelisk is visible from one module. Buried beneath the Obelisk is a time capsule that contains a copy of the 1870 U.S. census, a decade when Saraceno’s vision would have been inconceivable. From a different vantage point, the visitor sees modern-day construction workers on apartment roofs and window washers scaling the sides of soaring buildings. How is it that they appear to be at eye-level? Look here and entire Manhattan neighborhoods unfold; there we catch glimpses of lone runners circling the park on a misty morning. Mirrored panels turn images upside down and sideways, as if the visitor in his modular pod is rotating in space. At 54 feet long by 29 feet wide and 28 feet high, the structure appears small from afar, yet the private and communal areas inside form a complex and wondrous world inspired by clouds, bubbles, and foam. Connoisseur readers should be among the select few to see it. Soon.

Christine Ritenis

New York Arts Correspondent

Quotations and images provided by

About the author

Aksel Ritenis

Leave a Comment