The annual Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been a highlight of New York summers since 2013. Its best installations engage with the site’s sweeping views of Central Park and the city beyond, but this year’s offering does something I wouldn’t have thought possible: it brings out the latent whimsy of Midtown Manhattan’s skyline, now dominated by the spindly, skeletal condominiums of Billionaires’ Row. You can almost imagine these luxury aeries as lonely black piano keys or maybe giant Twix candy bars—if, that is, you forget socio-economics and consider them strictly as backdrop to a 26-foot-tall kinetic sculpture that references both a Calder mobile and a Little Tikes play set and features Sesame Street’s Big Bird sitting on a crescent moon, as if he were posing for a Depression-era novelty photo.
I’m not sure re-contextualizing the skyline is even a secondary intent of the piece, which is by Alex Da Corte, a 41-year-old artist who works across a variety of media. But note that his Big Bird is blue, not yellow, which Da Corte has said is a nod to the version of the character he watched during a portion of his childhood spent in Venezuela; I would add that the hue also matches the Miami-worthy blue glass of the super-tall One57—garish as architecture, mordantly amusing as Big Bird’s distant foil.
Da Corte’s sculpture is a crowd-pleaser, for sure, brightly colored and beautifully rendered, especially the 7,000 laser-cut aluminum feathers that make up Big Bird’s plumage. As he floats above you, jostled by the breeze, you may want to try to jump up and tousle his tail feathers. (Don’t.) But the work also has an air of melancholy, even mystery. Is blue also Big Bird’s mood? Clutching the ladder he presumably climbed to reach his perch, he gazes further skyward with a look of concern on his face, which made me wonder if Da Corte’s work is also engaged in an inadvertent dialogue with Sam Durant’s near life-size sculpture of a Predator drone, another pop conversation piece, scheduled to take up temporary residence above the High Line in May. Da Corte’s moody title is As Long as the Sun Lasts, after an Italo Calvino short story. Is that a reference to a day? A human life span? Our home planet’s fate? Big Bird isn’t telling, but he’s pulled up his ladder behind him, possibly an act of self-preservation that even the billionaires might envy. —Bruce Handy