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Doodles from a Torn World: Petrit Halilaj at The Met

The imaginative realm of a lolligagging child — a young student who’s mind wanders during class & who, in their dreamy idleness, etches a small piece of grafitti onto their desk, a casual act of rebellion many of us may or may not have committed — is the launching point of Petrit Halilaj’s rooftop commission at The Met, & it just opened. The doodles in question have been exploded in scale, made into jungle-gym-size metal sculptures reminiscent of Louise Bourgeois & are sourced from actual children’s school desks in Halilaj’s native Kosovo, that region synonymous with conflict & genocide.

It’s as if Halilaj were the giant from Jack in the Beanstalk, descended from the clouds to make some doodles himself — except the teacher he is ignoring is the constant modern barrage for one’s attention: work, school, phone, internet, social media, television, the news, the list goes on & on. The world is in great strain right now, conflict is everywhere, from the personal to the global — to take a moment to doodle seems utterly absurd, yet utterly necessary, as it must have been for the authors of these now-giant scribbles. To turn away from the overstimulating contemporary world (as many are) is an act of rebellion, perhaps, but also an act of self-preservation.

A doodle — what is it? What does it accomplish? It is a doorway to an inner dimension, just as art itself is: a refuge from & product of a chaotic world. To turn the idle daydream symbols of children caught in a vortex of geopolitical drama into giant kooky metal forts & oddball creatures (the spider is clearly the star: vaguely sinister, it looms like the Babadook over the roof of The Met, its grin a peek into the likely nightmare of the world outside the anonymous doodler) is to offer a glimpse into the innocence & necessity of idleness, not only for children & artists, but for anyone with a pulse. Idleness as escape, as refuge, as a moment to connect or disconnect, to discover what haunted & wondrous regions lie within the psyche: this seems lost to us now. No moment is ever idle. Let go, these sculptures seem to say, & anything could happen.

 —The Art Fart

The Roof Garden Commission: Petrit Halilaj, 'Abetare' is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art April 30–October 27, 2024. All images courtesy of The Met, installation photos by Hyla Skopitz.


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