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Ladies and Gentlemen, The Starn Brothers Present Big Bambú:
You Can’t, You Won’t, and You Don’t Stop
(April 27 — October 31, 2010)

by Val Castronovo

© 2010 Mike and Doug Starn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

For the 13th consecutive year, the Cantor Roof Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City plays host to the work of contemporary, living artists, this time showcasing the handiwork of 48-year-old twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn, best known for their nature photos.

On a bleak, rainy Monday morning, the Starns, two aging hippies from New Jersey in sawed-off bellbottoms, gamely walked the planks of their bamboo jungle, a towering thicket of bamboo poles lashed together with primary-colored nylon cord. The structure, with winding walkways that will be open to the public (weather permitting; wear rubber soles), looks like giant pick-up sticks scattered atop the Met’s roof. And they have the same fragile aspect, gently swaying back and forth as the artists dutifully traversed the elevated pathways in a demonstration for the press the day before the installation’s opening to the public.

A work in progress, Big Bambú will continue to grow over the next several months until it resembles a 50-foot-tall cresting wave. Hand-assembled by the artists themselves and a team of 20-odd rock climbers from New Paltz, New York, using fresh-cut bamboo poles from Georgia and South Carolina, this urban grove is supposed to be “a microcosm of life itself in which everything is interdependent and changing,” the creators told a rapt audience at the media preview on the roof. “The only consistent thing is change.”

Later, standing rather awkwardly indoors at Petrie Court for more formal remarks with the curators, Mike stated, “We express our ideas and philosophy in the work itself. It’s unbelievable to us that the museum had the balls to do anything this crazy.”

Indeed, six months ago Met curators spied a magazine article about the brothers’ bamboo work at a metallics foundry building in Beacon, New York. They contacted the duo, sensing the inherent possibilities for the museum’s skytop venue. The result: a bamboo jungle perched in the midst of the Central Park jungle, which, in turn, lies at the heart of an urban jungle.

“It’s the most ambitious installation to date,” Met Director Thomas Campbell commented about the rooftop’s continually evolving sculptural work comprised of some 5,000 interlocking 30-to-40-foot bamboo poles tied together with 50 miles of cord (plus occasional splashes of pink plastic ribbon that flutter in the breeze). For the artists, the piece is akin to a living organism, constantly changing and evolving over time.

“This piece is representative of what it means to be alive,” Mike told Anne Strauss, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Met. “And what we mean by that is not just simply as something that’s an animal, but it could be a city or a society, a culture. It’s always complete. It’s always a complete thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s finished. It’s always going to be changing and growing, and it’s made of its constituent parts that all affect each other through time. And they’re interconnected.”

The artists literally won’t stop changing the exhibit until October, hence the show’s subtitle, You Can’t, You Won’t, and You Don’t Stop, a lyric borrowed from the Beastie Boys. Visitors to the Roof Garden this spring, summer and fall can stand witness to the growth process of this colossal installation, either passively at the base or more actively in mid-air by signing up for a short guided tour via the elevated paths. Note: Tickets are required for the guided tour and guidelines apply (see But check the weather listings first.

©2010 Val Castronovo for



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