On Thursday evening, we stood among a crowd of awed spectators with necks craned as world-famous high-wire walker Philippe Petit carefully traversed the nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Petit’s “Ribbon Walk” took him through artist Anne Patterson’s textile sculpture Divine Pathways, a site-specific installation of 1,100 individual ribbons that hang from the ceiling and float above the floor. The colored ribbons were stirred into movement as Petit passed through, delighting onlookers below.
“I found the event to be so surreal since it’s been 50 years since Philippe’s walk across the World Trade Center,” said Untapped New York tour guide Ayinde Stevens, “To see him do his talent, it was a sight to behold.”
Petit dazzled guests inside the Cathedral as he crossed the wire at 20 feet in the air with no safety net below. Live music accompanied the walk adding even more drama and excitement to the performance witnessed by nearly 1,500 spectators.
It took Petit about a minute to walk the length of the wire, which he repeated multiple times. He also entertained onlookers by performing a magic trick, pulling a long rainbow-colored ribbon from his mouth.
The “Ribbon Walk” was a collaboration between Petit and Patterson. Petit told The New York Times that Patterson even made his costume, adorned with ribbons of course. Patterson says she “conceived of Divine Pathways as an interactive art installation.” Mirroring the colors of the Cathedral’s stained glass windows, the ribbons sway slightly in the natural breeze. As Petit walked through the piece, ribbons draped his shoulders and balancing pole, waving majestically in his wake.
As visually stunning as the ribbons are, they did present some challenges to Petit’s walk. “His main battle appeared to be getting those ribbons out of the way of his balance pole,” noticed Untapped New York Insider Judy Davis. Speaking with Pix11 News, Patterson pointed out a moment when a ribbon got wrapped around Petit’s leg, and “he had to do a a little ballet move to get it off.” Despite these obstacles, Petit pulled off the walk with flare and grace.
Thursday evening’s walk was not the first time Petit took to the heights of the cathedral. His first attempt was foiled by the police, but instead of pressing charges, the church embraced Petit. He became the Cathedral’s artist-in-residence and had a studio space in the underground crypt. To celebrate new construction at the Cathedral in 1982, Petit was invited to walk across Amsterdam Avenue to the roof of the Cathedral on a wire 150 feet off the ground.
Petit’s most famous high-wire walk was completed in August 1974 when he crossed between the Twin Towers. Dubbed “the artistic crime of the century,” the feat has been explored in the Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire and fictionalized in the Joseph Gordon-Levitt film The Walk.
“I want my audiences to see something beautiful, to inspire them, literally to raise their sights,” says Petit, who smiled triumphantly at the end of his successful walk.
Divine Pathways is on view through June 2024. See more photos from the walk below!
Next, check out 9 Art Installations to See in February 2024