Roxy Paine’s Maelstrom transforms the Met’s rooftop into a wonderful web of art, nature, machinery and people. Stainless-steel branches spread and weave in ways that constantly evoke organic and inorganic references. Visitors negotiate paths through Paine’s play of thick and thin, heavy and light growths of steel, revealing Maelstrom’s ability to appear to be constantly moving, changing, growing. Paine is able to maintain an elusive quality, much like real maelstroms, or whirlpools, do in nature–one is never quite sure if this is truly evoking nature or not. For, when observed closely, the elegant silver-like branches are not natural at all–instead, they are industrial tubes soldered together, some still bearing the blue letters of the factory that made them. Another interesting detail appears in Paine’s decision to connect sections of the piece to the water spigot’s located on the walls. When I asked one of the guards the purpose of that connection, he explained that there was no functional purpose, expect maybe to help ground the piece from the wind. In addition to problems with the wind, the guard also mentioned museum’s concern of lighting striking the piece. Thus, anytime it rained, the guard explained that they had to shut the rooftop down and prevent visitors from walking around a literal “lighting magnet.” Hearing these stories furthered my impression of Paine’s ability to blur the lines between art, machines and nature–which is really in control?
Watch the video showing the installation process.