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press: petrit halilaj | An Artist From Kosovo Takes Flight

After a childhood marked by war and exile, Petrit Halilaj has become one of his generation’s great talents.

By Jason Farago


When the Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj received an invitation for his biggest project ever in the United States, he knew just where to go: back to school.

For Abetare, his spare, smart, absolutely delightful sculptural installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Halilaj, who is 38, traveled to elementary schools across southeastern Europe, documenting the doodles that generations of schoolchildren left on their desks and walls. (The project’s title refers to the Albanian-language ABC book from which Halilaj learned the alphabet.) Those children’s drawings from the Balkans formed the templates for the sprightly, sometimes bawdy bronze and steel sculptures that now garland the skyline of New York — large ones, but also flowers, birds and graffiti that nestle in the topiaries, and hide behind the cocktail bar.

Halilaj was born in 1986 in Kosterrc, a small village outside the town of Runik. (At Art Basel one year he answered that perpetual question, Where are you from?, by dumping 60 tons of Kosterrc soil in the white cube of the art fair.) His own school days took place amid the most horrific fighting in Europe between World War II and the present war in Ukraine. Serbian forces burned down the Halilaj family home in 1999, at the height of the Kosovo war, one of the most brutal chapters of a decade-long nightmare of ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans. The family fled to Albania, where psychologists in a refugee camp encouraged the boy to draw. War reporters at the time chronicled an ambidextrous child prodigy, drawing chickens and peacocks with both hands.


read the full article in The New York Times


+ about the roofgarden commission: petrit halilaj, abetare