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The Nelson-Atkins Presents Siah Armajani: Dialogue with Democracy
Siah Armajani, American (b. Iran, 1939). Elements #16, 1985-1988. Steel, aluminum, wood and paint. 68 1/2 inches x 11 feet 7 1/4 inches x 40 1/4 inches. Purchase: Gift of the artist in honor of Martin and Mickey Friedman, F98-25/1 A-D.

KANSAS CITY.- Twelve works by sculptor Siah Armajani from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art collection will go on display in the Bloch Building May 10 through Sept. 21, in the exhibition Siah Armajani: Dialogue with Democracy. The artist’s sculptural/architectural constructions embody the ideals of democracy, liberty and equality.

Born in Iran in 1939, Armajani immigrated to the United States in 1960. His Iranian background provided a unique perspective through which he came to embrace the ideals of democracy.

Viewers will recognize chairs, tables, doors, bridges and other forms, which are a fusion of fine and applied art principles. The pared down simple shapes evoke the American vernacular and the aesthetic of the one-room school house or the small-town church. The sculptural motifs express art’s utility, its relationship to the ordinary person, and its obligation to serve a common purpose in a visual vocabulary available to all.

Armajani’s Elements #16 is an abstract reference to a bridge. He combines the arching shapes of a bridge with a green parsons table (seen upside down). The sculpture also includes two carpenters sawhorses, which serve as support. The milled wood and stamped aluminum are utilitarian construction materials. This work of art was the precursor to the model Armajani created for the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge in Minneapolis, a pedestrian bridge that spans 16 lanes of traffic to link the Walker Art Museum and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with Loring Park and the city’s downtown. Bridges are Armajani’s most enduring subject.

Armajani’s sculptures may be compared to other works in the Nelson-Atkins Modern & Contemporary collection, which are based on minimal, geometric forms and industrial materials, such as Donald Judd’s stainless steel and Plexiglas Large Stack.

Armajani’s sculptures are simple forms that convey complex ideas related to democracy, idealism and pragmatism,” said Leesa Fanning, Associate Curator, Modern & Contemporary Art at the Nelson-Atkins, who curated the exhibition.

After his arrival in the United States, Armajani received his bachelor’s degree from Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn. Starting in the late 1960s, his works were included in a number of exhibitions focusing on conceptual art. He designed the Olympic Torch for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. He has worked on projects such as the New York Staten Island Tower and Bridge, the Round Gazebo in Nice, France, and the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge in Minneapolis.

The Nelson-Atkins acquired the sculptures in the exhibition between 1996 and 1998.

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