Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu has been selected to create sculptures for The Met’s Fifth Avenue facade niches—the first-ever such installation on the Museum’s historic exterior—inaugurating a new annual artist commission series. The works will be unveiled on September 9, 2019, and be on view through January 12, 2020.
The museum’s facade niches have remained bare since its inception in 1870 not for aesthetic reasons, but for budget restrictions. “they ran out of money [back then],” said Max Hollein (the Met’s Austrian director) in an interview with W magazine. Kelly Baum, the Met’s co-curator, added: “There’s the little matter of female power in the context of the Met’s male-dominated past. There’s some drama there, which I appreciate.” 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 façade whose original architects sought to convey a far more conservative set of values.
Born in Nairobi in 1972 and trained in sculpture at Yale, from which she received her MFA in 2000, Wangechi Mutu is one of the most distinguished artists of her generation. She has achieved critical acclaim for her haunting, otherworldly collage-paintings, art-films, live performances, and sculptures. Comprised of either bronze or organic materials, Mutu’s three-dimensional work depicts formidable figures referencing modern and classical mythologies that conflate histories and sculptural traditions of Africa and Europe. Like her collage-paintings, Mutu’s sculptures reflect critically on social and ecological injustices and inequalities. Female transformation and empowerment are at the core of all her ideas and evidence in the completed work.