New York

“Ruckus Manhattan”

88 Pine Street

Buildings bend and swoop in Ruckus Manhattan, streets buckle and tilt, à la Dr. Caligari. The product of a combine called Ruckus Construction Co. and Creative Time, Inc., under the guidance of Red Grooms, this large model of Lower Manhattan is explicitly fantastic. Little is held constant here; scale is out of control, and the forms and faces of the buildings are shaped to a set of personal visions. The place delights children—there are crowds of them even in the cold rain—and I. M. Pei’s elegant, white-girdered building at 88 Pine Street is a pleasant setting for a work whose levity about form plays off the building’s structural sobriety.

The World Trade Towers are the focus of this version of the city’s lower parts, and they vanish into the ceiling—or, more properly, into a flat field of white clouds made of cardboard and attached to the ceiling. One of the towers is a more or less serious version, lit green from within, exhibiting the straight and narrow window striping along its length. The other tower ventures off into four different fantasies on its four different sides. On one side the thin striping is tied and woven together at several places in mockery of the unconvincing curves it makes at the bottom of the building. Another side features cross sections, cutaways, in the style of paintings in National Geographic of space or deep-sea stations. But these are of cartoon offices with business in progress and lots of things labeled—like the “Australian National Meat Board,” where kangaroos leap over the desks. Somebody went and read the directory at the World Trade Center and responded with this series of fantasies. (Look it up, and you’ll find there really is such an office in the Trade Towers.) You can spend the better part of an hour appreciating such details.

A third side depicts the Tower as it might be if every activity in the city were to be carried on within its confines. Welfare hotels, massage parlors and “Gyro” parking facilities are all granted space on that side of the Tower, chasing each other to the sky—where there are facilities for space ships to dock and UFO landing pads.

And the fourth side is simply a cartoon meditation on how the Towers are a 20th-century version of the Tower of Babel. Construction crews proceed up spiral ramps, fighting with each other, falling into piles of wet cement, and eating sandwiches out of their lunch baskets. Below, protestors and sunbathers vie for space in the public plaza; an egg truck from New Jersey enters the city by tunnel, and farthest down, in the sewers, roam alligators who are albino descendants of legendary dime-store pets flushed down the toilet.

No one can notice everything here—that’s what makes it feel like a city. For instance, I nearly missed the bones buried in cutaway in Trinity Church graveyard, or the plastic meter maid lurking in one corner. Everything has been drawn, painted, made by hand, and thought by hand as well, on the spot, humorously and collectively. That’s why there is so much detail, so much variety, and so little in the way of pretension.

“Serious” meanings creep in on the feet of the best dry Pop wit. Money talks, as the man said, and, boy, she talks. Here she bends a building over backward to serve her—the Irving Trust building—and she crouches, in another guise, as a terrific dragon, worthy of Doré, atop the Woolworth Building. The dragon is mechanized: its greedy head laps back and forth like the prime rate, its wings open and close as relentlessly as mortgages.

Immigrants to Ruckus Manhattan enter via a model of the Staten Island Ferry, beside a Statue of Liberty with platform heels and a straw hat, under a mobile of gulls, four or five of whom would sink the ferry boat. Things occupy pretty much the places they do on the real-life map. The Construction Company plans to complete the whole island, with two more stages of the model to be built at a midtown and an uptown location.

The first time I visited the model the lines were too long and I walked for a while around the building. In the back was the Ruckus Construction Company’s workshop. A fragment of ornament crouched on a window shelf there. A bubble-top car, rejected for a spot on the weedy ruin of the West Side Highway, and a sad, sober model of City Hall hunched close together. I was reminded that it was the absence of all sorts of things, playfully abstracted away, that made Ruckus Manhattan a work of such imagination and appeal.

––Phil Patton