Past the torn-up pavement gathering water in new pools, at the far end of the long terrace in front of the stunning view of midtown, Pierre Huyghe has placed a rectangular aquarium as part of his Met Roof installation, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through November 1, 2015. Reminiscent of the Damien Hirst shark on view in the galleries below not so long ago, this aquarium’s aqua waters are also punctuated by a murky grey shape–in this case: a rock. The rock hovers above a pile of grey sand so that the two almost touch.
Clearly, this off-center, relatively small arrangement of inert matter is anticlimactic after striding across the hot pavement. Such inconspicuousness is typical of the French artist’s works. Here, its subtlety becomes apparent as you stare at the tank and discover tiny organisms skirting about. They are lampreys and triops (apparently ancient species that do little more than swim and reproduce). Together with the excavation of the roofing tiles, their presence suggests the desire to unearth some primordial history or an other way of being with nature than the carefully manicured park below.
Huyghe’s projects have including living animals, plants, and other natural elements before, and at the Met it seems like he is trying to create a minimalist ecosystem. Rather than abundance, what Huyghe presents seems basic, if not barely sufficient. At least for me, it is not easy to connect the work to its immediate environment aside from a sweeping generalizations about the disparity between nature (the work) and culture (the museum).
However, much to my delight, the Roof Garden installation is complimented by a riveting, 19-minute video shown in the Modern and Contemporary Galleries downstairs. Untitled (Human Mask) (2011-2) provides a vignette of a strange creature in a desolate world. Set in a deserted Fukushima, Japan after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, the camera follows a pet monkey, which continues to go through the actions its owners had trained it to do–help serve in a sake house. The owners had trained the monkey to wear a mask while serving (thus, the title), and the half-human, half-animal creature alone in the post-apocalyptic scenario is at least one reason the video has such pathos. How much does the monkey understand the drastically changed situation? The video is beautiful and mournful, compelling viewing despite lacking dialogue or plot.
Untitled (Human Mask) is only up for 3 more weeks–until August 9.