The Iranian-born, American sculpture artist, Siah Armajani is best known for his works of public art in bridges, gazebos, gardens, and reading rooms across the United States and Europe.
The artist has arrived in New York with a two-pronged installation and exhibition. The outdoor component will be featured by The Public Art Fund in Brooklyn Bridge Park with the installation Bridge Over Tree (1970), which was first exhibited as a temporary installation at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis nearly fifty years ago (1970). It consists of a 91-foot-long walkway with open, trussed sides and a shingled roof, with a set of stairs at the midpoint that climb and descend over a small evergreen tree. The installation is located on the Empire Fulton Ferry Lawn at Brooklyn Bridge Park between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Siah Armajani: Bridge Over Tree is curated by The Public Art Fund Director and Chief Curator Nicholas Baume.
The original concept and installation by Armajani was created as an outdoor, site-specific piece for the Walker Art Center’s 9 Artists/9 Spaces exhibition. Coinciding with The Public Art Fund installation, Siah Armajani: Follow This Line is on view at The Met Breuer. Featuring nearly one hundred works made over the past 60 years, Siah Armajani: Follow This Line is the first major U.S. retrospective of the preeminent Iranian-American artist Siah Armajani (b. 1939).
Here, we explore both the indoor and outdoor components, beginning at Met Breuer, and moving to Brooklyn Bridge Park with the MET and the Public Art Fund.
Siah Armajani: Follow This Line at Met Breuer features more than 100 works made over the past 60 years and includes collages, bridges, gazebos, reading rooms, Persian calligraphy, poetry and mathematical equations and computer programming, all under the theme of ~ Exile.
the exhibition is displayed on the entire fourth floor of Met Breuer (above) and includes many never before seen, and recently rediscovered works, from the 1960s and 1970s, including the works on paper Prophet Ali (1963), Land Deeds (1970), and Factorial Which Produces a Hexagon (1971), and the artists’ computer-generated animations on film from 1970 (image below), as well as most of the approximately 150 works that exist today from the artist’s landmark series Dictionary for Building (1974-75), an installation originally composed of thousands of small-scale, architectural maquette.
Armanjani’s earliest works are collages of fabric and paper (image below) created in the 1950s when he was a young artist and activist. In these works, he tells a story about culture and politics in southern Tehran during his years as a university student.
In the piece below, the embroidery actually places the viewer on the street where Mohammad Mosaddegh, the 35th prime minister of Iran, lived ~ as you follow the line within the artwork.
Upon arriving in the United States in 1960, Armajani wrote letters home to Iran – now a mural entitled “Letters Home” it is an artwork of actual letters and illustrations sent from his new U.S. home in Minnesota to his home of birth in Iran. The letters are written in Farsi with felt pen and paint on cloth.
My photograph of the lining of Siah Armajani’s father’s suit jacket does not do justice to the beauty and sentiment of the piece, framed in shadow box (below).
This is the first major U.S. retrospective of the preeminent Iranian-American artist (born 1939), tracing the development of Armajani’s art from his early days to his most recent installations.
In addition to collages, the artist created sculptures and models from his Tombs series (1972-2016) and Rooms of Hospitality series (2015-ongoing), merging sculpture and architecture. One such sculpture is the artists creation (below) upon the death of poet John Berryman. This suicide so affected Armajani, that he created this sculpture ~ seemingly his meditation on his own mortality, placing ‘Berryman’s tomb’ in the middle of the street in his sculpture.
Below are reading materials curated by Slavs and Tatars ~ Red Black Thread, 2018, Reading list, books, and printed matter. Part of the artists’ statement reads “The sources and materials in the reading list aim to widen the visits to include the social, intellectual, and psychological impact of Russian and Soviet ideology on the formation of African-American identity. ”
Continuing with the artists’ statement, “Red-Black Thread allows us to approach two subjects perceived as disparate and often studied in isolation – namely Russia and blackness – together, in a bear hug of contaminated critical analysis. We Can’t imaging a more fitting space to activate Red-Black Thread than Siah Armajani’s Sacco and Vanzetti Reading Room #3 (1988), whose titular identity and function are so intertwined with the history and practice of social justice.”
In the photograph below, Follow This Line curator Clare Davies, Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey at The MET (far right) standing next to the artist, Siah Armajani.
Moving across the Manhattan Bridge with the Public Art Fund to the outdoor component of Siah Armajani’s exhibition to Bridge Over Tree in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the installation sits between Jane’s Carousel and the Brooklyn Bridge. Today, the artist is most known for his large-scale, outdoor installations.
“It is an honor to bring Bridge Over Tree to New York City,” says the artist. “The work has been on view only once, in 1970, but I have long hoped to revisit it. By siting the work in this international city and between two highly recognizable bridges, Public Art Fund has given Bridge Over Tree a new civic context. It is important to me that my retrospective convey the breadth of my work, and public projects have always been at the core of my practice.”
The bridge is a recurring motif for Armajani, encouraging connectivity and dialogue among strangers as they walk over and around it. He views it as a poetic form caught in-between, connecting people, places, communities, and ideas.
“Bridge Over Tree is a very curious structure. As bridges go, it doesn’t make sense. There’s no functional efficiency in its elaborate climb over a small, lone tree; there’s no A to B that can’t otherwise be reached. In liberalizing the form and stripping the customary function of a bridge, Armajani frees its potential as a poetic, expressive, and political idea. In an era obsessed with walls and fences, the bridge-building public work of this Iranian exile is perhaps even more urgent now than when first conceived in 1970. Newly sited in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Bridge Over Tree becomes part of the urban landscape, creating a space for reflection, engagement and interaction at the convergence of two of our city’s most iconic bridges,” says Public Fund Director & Chief Curator Nicholas Baume.
Above ~ the center of the interactive installation Bridge Over Tree ~ a big hit with adults and children alike, who enjoyed walking through, up and over, and out the other end.
Another view of Bridge Over Tree, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, and an interior shot (below), with wonderful dancing shadows inside and out, during the day.
Joining us on our journey, the artist, Siah Armajani, pictured below with Public Art Fund Director and Chief Curator, Nicholas Baume, who braved the cold to present the massive installation, Bridge Over Tree.
The Met Breuer exhibition is accompanied by a major publication by the Walker Art Center featuring new scholarship on Armajani, an illustrated chronology, and artist’s texts, as well as contributions by artists Nazgol Ansarinia, Sam Durant, Barbad Golshiri, and Slavs and Tatars. Lead support for the catalogue is provided by the Lannan Foundation. An exhibition tour will take place on Tuesday, March 19 from 12:30 to 1:30pm.
Siah Armajani: Bridge Over Tree at Brooklyn Bridge Park and Siah Armajani: Follow This Line at The MET Breuer will be on view from February 20 through June 2, 2019. Siah Armajani: Follow this Line is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Related Programming will be held on Friday, April 5 (6:30-7:30 pm), as part of the Museum’s MetFridays programs, artist Liam Gillick and art historian David Hodge will discuss Siah Armajani’s work in the context of the history of public art from the 1980s to today and will share their insights on the evolving significance of social space in contemporary artistic practice. MetFridays—Siah Armajani and Public Art is free with Museum admission.
Siah Armajani (b. 1939) passed away on August 27, 2020.