These days, visitors to The Met Fifth Avenue are encountering a striking new welcome committee: four massive bronze figures, in residence through January 12 in niches that punctuate the Museum’s facade. The work of Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based artist Wangechi Mutu, this installation inaugurates an exciting new program of public art—and signals a new direction in the Museum’s outlook under Director Max Hollein.
The facade niches were intended for the display of sculpture when Richard Morris Hunt’s Beaux Arts structure was completed in 1902—yet for apparently budgetary reasons they remained vacant for 117 years. The first Facade Commission, Wugu’s work is entitled The NewOnes, will free Us; it is comprised of four monumental sculptures of women wearing woven garments with variously placed polished discs adorning their heads. The figures’ scale and siting reference both the caryatid (a sculpted support element that has been part of the Western architectural tradition since ancient times) as well as the prestige stools used by Luba kings in West Africa.
It’s no wonder that this multi-continental artist was chosen to kick off this new initiative. Director Hollein writes that The NewOnes, will free Us will be the first in a series of “contemporary art commissions through which The Met invites artists to create works of art that establish a dialogue between the artist’s practice and our physical Museum, its collection, and our visitors.” We can all look forward to many more thought-provoking, visually engaging presentations of contemporary art exhibited throughout and within The Met’s galleries and public spaces, as the Museum seeks to spur conversations around connections between motifs, cultures, and people.
Mutu’s work is represented in The Met collection, while her extraordinary multimedia print Second born is available for sale at The Mezzanine Gallery at The Met Store. Call 212-570-3767 to make an appointment to examine this vivid and hauntingly beautiful work today.