Wangechi Mutu Welcomes Visitors on The MET Facade with The NewOnes, will free Us




Just right of entrance

The Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled four installations on the facade of The Met Fifth Avenue, entitled The Facade Commission: Wangechi Mutu, The NewOnes, will free us.     Wangechi Mutu  was selected to create sculptures for The Met’s Fifth Avenue façade niches—the first-ever such installation on the Museum’s historic exterior—inaugurating a new annual artist commission series. The works were unveiled on September 9, 2019.

closeup of two of the sculptures that make up The Facade Commission: Wangechi Mutu, The NewOnes, will free Us

“Artists have long engaged with The Met’s collection, drawing connections between contemporary practices and 5,000 years of world culture,” said Max Hollein, Director of the Museum. “These projects are a manifestation of The Met’s desire and ability to collaborate with artists and current artistic production in an unusual way. The Met itself, the building, and its public spaces will become temporary platforms for presenting new work, offering powerful opportunities to display contemporary art for our broad audience to experience.”

Just left of entrance

“The Met has long been a home for generations of artists in New York and also from across the world,” said Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art. “We are honored to have Mutu, Monkman, and Kjartansson join that lineage, not only drawing inspiration from The Met’s rich collections, but also thinking what it means to cross the threshold of a great Beaux-Arts building in contemporary terms.”

Kelly Baum, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator of Contemporary Art, commented, “The NewOnes, will free Us constitutes one of Mutu’s most important and extraordinary bodies of work to date, the culmination of two decades of sustained artistic experimentation and rigorous research into the relationship between power, culture, and representation.”

Far left from entrance

The Museum’s Beaux-Arts Fifth Avenue façade and Great Hall, designed by the architect and founding Museum Trustee Richard Morris Hunt, opened to the public in December 1902. The installation of Mutu’s sculptures in the façade niches is the first-ever display of art on the façade. As the Museum’s grand and ceremonial welcoming space, the Great Hall often features art from across time and cultures, from the Egyptian statue of a pharaoh and the Hellenistic Greek sculpture of Athena that preside there now to more recent installations of work by Piotr Uklański (2014), Andy Warhol (2012), and John Baldessari (2010), as part of related exhibitions.

Far right of entrance ‘The Seated’

This installation is part of a new series of contemporary commissions at The Met in which the Museum invites artists to create new works of art inspired by the collection, establishing a dialogue between the artist’s work, the collection, the space, and audiences.

For The Met’s facade, Mutu has created four bronze sculptures. They are known individually as The Seated I, II, III, and IV. As a group, they bear the title The NewOnes, will free Us. As with all of her work, Mutu’s sculptures engage in a critique of gender and racial politics that is as pointed as it is poetic and fantastic. With The NewOnes, will free Us, the artist has reimagined a motif common to the history of both Western and African art: the caryatid, a sculpted female figure meant to serve as a means of either structural or metaphorical support. Whether carved out of wood for the prestige stool of a West African king or chiseled out of marble for a building on the Athenian Acropolis, the caryatid has always been confined to her role as a load-bearer. For her part, Mutu stages a feminist intervention, liberating the caryatid from her traditional duties and her secondary status. Mutu does so, moreover, in the context of a neo-classical facade whose original architects sought to convey a far more conservative set of values.
Lining up for the entrance (far right side sculpture)
Simultaneously celestial and humanoid, each sculpture is unique, with individualized hands, facial features, ornamentation, and patina. Mutu’s embellishments take a great deal of inspiration from customs practiced by specific groups of high-ranking African women. The horizontal and vertical coils that sheathe the figures’ bodies, which function as garment and armor all in one, reference beaded bodices and circular necklaces, while the polished discs set into different parts of the sculptures’ heads allude to lip plates. Belonging to no one time or place, Mutu’s hybrid figures are stately, resilient, and self-possessed. They announce their authority and autonomy. Appearing to have recently arrived on the facade of The Met, they are the “new ones” who bring word of new ideas and new perspectives.
Four sculptures by artist Wangechi Mutu as part of The Facade Commission: Wangechi Mutu, The NewOnes, will free Us. September 9, 2019

Spend an evening with artist, Wangechi Mutu at a free lecture on Monday, September 9th.

Additionally,Kent Monkmanhas created monumental new paintings for the Museum’s Great Hall, which will be on view from December 19, 2019, through April 12, 2020. This spring, The Met will also present the world premiere of Ragnar Kjartansson’s immersive video installation Death Is Elsewhere (2017–19) in the Robert Lehman Wing court, where it will be on view from May 30 through September 2, 2019.

The installation, Wangechi Mutu: The NewOnes, will free Us has been extended on the facade of The Metropolitan Museum of Art to November 1, 2020.

The exhibition is made possible by Cathrin M. Stickney and Mark P. Gorenberg. Additional support is provided by the Ford Foundation, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky, Sylvie Winckler, Jerry Speyer and Katherine Farley, and the Director’s Fund.
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