October 27, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions, Viewpoints
In the Bathysphere

Paula Hayes. Slug and Egg (digital rendering of the installation Nocturne of the Limax maximus). 2010. Installation: cast acrylic, hand-blown glass, cnc-milled topographical wall and ceiling attachment, full-spectrum lighting, and tropical planting. Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Courtesy of the Artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery. © Paula Hayes

A little over a year and a half ago, Ann Temkin, MoMA’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, asked me to consider an “intervention” in MoMA’s Fifty-third Street lobby. Of course I was very excited, knowing that no work of ambitious scale had been installed in this very populated, chaotically inhabited area of the Museum, with only a few indications of the etiquette of how to be in the space—information here, tickets there, some moving image screen projects that can be indicative of information regarding the interior exhibitions. Doors revolving, air and environmental aspects of the outdoors spilling in with the visitors. Perfect!

In my initial conversations with Ann, and as we stood in the space together, the words “it will take a miracle” to work with the space and transform it into an immersive art experience reverberated in my mind after parting—and this sentence stuck with me in the days to come.

My usual place of epiphany is while bathing. In my mind’s eye I saw the installation: engaging the long west wall and relating the large imposing columns in a way that illuminated the organic nature of the space by way of its inhabitants’ movements and intentions; its freedom of movement; a place of meeting and anticipation—of being “fertilized” by art. I imagined a way to literally and truly enliven the space and engage the inhabitants while they gathered in anticipation of what they are about to experience within the Museum.

With my team, I began to draw the pieces in a 3-D virtual model. As typical, I ran things by my thirty-one- and twenty-nine-year-old children. My son, Andrew, immediately sent me a link to a YouTube video below of a David Attenborough–narrated documentary about the mating of Leopard slugs that reminded him of the forms I had sent him.


In short form we refined the sculptures in 3-D, now excited by this fantastical natural phenomenon; the mating rituals of the Limax maximus. Once thought of by me as the “lowly” slug, this surprising creature of slime and mystery—never knowing how lovely and miraculous they are. When finished, the two cast acrylic and hand-blown-glass-planted sculptural works will be accompanied by full-spectrum lighting to create a vibrant vegetated environment in the lobby.

From there, the process of turning a warm bath epiphany, the visualization of forms and spirit, and the wonder of familial interconnectedness of intellectual and artistic interest into the space where physical manifestation begins.

Paula Hayes, Nocturne of the Limax maximus will be on view in MoMA’s lobby from November 17, 2010, through February 28, 2011.