Tomás Saraceno: Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities
14 Billions (working title). Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, © 2010

Tomás Saraceno: Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities

Clouds and spider webs.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Through May 21, 2017

Tomás Saraceno (b. 1973) burst onto the art and architecture scene about 10 years ago with his innovative, beautiful and ingenious sculptural installations that are inspired by clouds and other natural configurations, including most notably spider webs. In fact, he has an extensive collection of spiders that spin gorgeously intricate webs that he displays in lighted black boxes.

As an architect and environmentalist with a unique vision of the future, the Argentinian born artist has displayed his works and collaborated with institutions throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. His long-term project, called “Aerocene,” is an open-source community project for artistic and scientific exploration. Its goal is to help people live in airborne cities that become buoyant by the heat of the Sun and infrared radiation from the surface of Earth. The show contains an eight-minute silent video about the Aerocene project.

As a small part of that grand design, the site-specific exhibit in a large white room on SFMOMA’s sixth floor consists mainly of large installations of open-work branching black tension cords, thread and stainless steel in polygenic shapes with reflective panels, which are tied with knots to the ceiling, the walls and the floor. One can walk into and through each structure and explore it from its many angles. And one can imagine these structures being as small as a spider web and as large as a city.

One piece I particularly liked contained clear bubbles that were filled with helium so that the whole assembly floated in the air. As Mr. Saraceno explained it, the work is a model of a proposed construction, which, if the bubbles were filled with air warmer than the atmosphere, could float above the Earth. In theory, the heat of the Sun could power the bubbles without the need for helium or other added gases.

In a hidden corner of the exhibition is one stunning complex, yet geometrically proportioned, spider web. Don’t miss this, especially if you haven’t seen these webs before. There was a room of Saraceno’s fantastic webs at the Berkeley Art Museum’s inaugural show in January 2016.

It was a pleasure to meet Tomás Saraceno at the press preview for his show. A bright, affable, yet unassuming artist, he seemed happy to discuss and explain his work. Some artists who appear at press previews are not as approachable and forthcoming. When my editor asked why one cord at the ceiling was slack when all the others were taut, Saraceno easily acknowledged that he couldn’t get to the spot to repair it. He laughed, but wouldn’t accept my joking suggestion that he re-characterize the mistake as purposeful, to represent the curvature of the Earth.

“Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities” is a wonderful synthesis of art, architecture and science. It’s a fascinating display of innovative ideas and creations with a captivating beauty all its own.

By Emily S. Mendel

©Emily S. Mendel 2016 All Rights Reserved.

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for