On the Met Roof, Skywriting His Way to Freedom

When this old world starts getting me down

And people are just too much for me to face

I climb way up to the top of the stairs

And all my cares just drift right into space …

I’ve found a paradise that’s trouble-proof …

Up on the roof

So crooned the Drifters in 1962, making the inner-city rooftop — “tar beach” — a very cool spring-and-summertime place to be. And while the roof of the august Metropolitan Museum of Art may not have figured in anyone’s getaway plan back then, it does now, thanks to the Roof Garden sculptural commissions the museum has been installing, seasonally, over the past dozen years.

The latest of them, “Petrit Halilaj, Abetare,” which opens on Tuesday, is one of the airiest looking so far. Indeed, drawing — or skywriting — rather than sculpture is what I’d call this openwork tangle of dark bronze-and-steel calligraphic lines tracing silhouetted images — of birds, flowers, stars, a giant spider and a fairy tale house — against the panorama of Manhattan beyond and Central Park below.

It’s a funky, sky-reaching fantasia. But Paradise? Uh-uh. The spider looks mean. The house tilts as if melting. And what’s with a scattering of spiky phalluses, and a Soviet hammer-and-sickle emblem, and mysterious words and anagrams — Runik, Kukes, KFOR — with explicitly down-to-earth connections?

And what to make of the fact that all of these images and words were lifted from a single prosaic source. They were found, scratched and doodled on the surfaces of classroom desktops by generations of elementary school kids in the Balkan territories of Europe during a time of brutalizing regional war.

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