"Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)," the Met's Rooftop Contrast
Pat, pat, pat, pat. Leftover raindrops drip from the awning onto the floor tiles of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden atop the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The breeze is steady and the skyline magnificent per usual. However, ominously hunkered in the corner of the garden is Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) by Cornelia Parker.
The gray sky contrasts to the crimson, chipped boards of the house. The corrugated, repurposed barn shingles scalloped in a line, row by row, serve as the pseudo-mansard roof of the 30-foot installation. The house is in the Second Empire style, three stories, and has a single-paned white oculus window in a little tower jutting from the roof. The porch is small and rickety, reminiscent of a porch you see on Halloween but don’t approach for candy. The trim is made up of half moon doily-like decorations, which meet at the chipped white porch posts. Two of the decorations are unhitched and hanging.
When Parker was commissioned to create a piece for the Met’s Roof Garden, she originally wanted to deconstruct and reconstruct a barn but realized that it would be too large for the garden. Parker is most famous for her deconstructive art. The piece that brought her popularity in the 1990s was Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, where she blew up her garden shed and then suspended the pieces as if to show the explosion stopped in a moment.
PsychoBarn is similar -- completely made of pieces of a barn from an old dairy farm in upstate New York. As for her large project, she kept the barn in the back of her mind and was drawn to painter Edward Hopper’s The House by the Railroad. Parker discovered that director Alfred Hitchcock used Hopper’s painting as a model for Bates Mansion in his 1960 film Psycho. Many will be all too familiar with the Bates family and the film as a horror staple. A certain critic’s father would recite "reek, reek, reek" whenever he pulled the large steak knives from the dishwasher in attempt to sound like the screeching violin from the famous shower scene.
Parker’s PsychoBarn is built similar to Hitchcock’s movie set, with two facades set up with elaborate steel piping and scaffolding. From a certain angle, the house looks whole and functional but from the other side it looks like a fake.
“Oh, it’s from a movie,” a bystander said to explain the piece to her daughter. She is not wrong but Parker is after something greater. Parker has molded together comfort and discomfort, rural and urban. The Dutch red barn is easily recognizable as a symbol of homegrown Americana while the style of Hitchcock’s Psycho house is a symbol of pop culture and something far more sinister. She calls it an “inverse of the cliché.” The house is unsettling but familiar; Parker’s PsychoBarn is sure to conjure memories of viewers’ worst nightmares.