The Met Museum Acquires Two Sculptures by Wangechi Mutu

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The series of bronze statues by Wangechi Mutu that currently adorns the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s facade is scheduled to be on public display until early November. But two of the four pieces, The Seated I and The Seated III, will remain at the museum long after the exhibition closes as a part of its collections, the Met announced yesterday.

“Sometimes when you do a site-specific commission it only works for the specific site or in that particular context,” Max Hollein, the museum’s director, said in an interview. “In regard to Wangechi’s works, it’s clear that on the facade they work as these four sculptures framing the facade, transforming the facade, but they also work as singular objects.”

When they were unveiled last September, Mutu’s caryatid sculptures — traditionally female figures carved into architectural support structures like columns — were the first artworks to be presented from the face of the Met’s building on Fifth Avenue. In Mutu’s renderings, the figures are released from their supporting role. Instead of helping to hold up roofs or balconies, they sit freely on pedestals.

Their style also separates them from the typical caryatids that visitors might see elsewhere. “With sloping eyes and long fingers expressive of exceptional reach, they speak as messengers from an Afrofuturist-inflected otherworld,” Nancy Princenthal wrote in the Times.

The series, collectively titled “The NewOnes, will free Us,” was commissioned by the Met, along with paintings by Kent Monkman. These efforts, and the acquisition of Mutu’s sculptures, are part of a larger push by the museum to increase its engagement with contemporary art.

Last November, the acclaimed exhibition of Mutu’s sculptures was extended from January 2020 to June. It was extended again when the museum was forced to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. (In June, the Met announced plans to reopen to the public on 29 August pending state and city approval.)

Plans for how Mutu’s sculptures will be shown when they move indoors are still being formulated, Hollein said: “They will be displayed, certainly, as part of our contemporary collection but obviously we have a strong context with our collection of African art as well as our collection of European, classical sculpture.”

Carol Bove, a sculptor known for large-scale works that combine modernist and minimalist elements, will be the next artist to tackle the Met’s frontispiece. Hollein anticipates that her installation, originally scheduled to debut in September, will be exhibited in 2021.

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