Rocks not so solid on the Met's face

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, April 22, 2024


Rocks not so solid on the Met's face
Four of Nairy Baghramian’s sculptures installed in the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on Sept. 6, 2023. There are some offers an artist cannot refuse — and first among them is the Met’s annual Facade Commission, now in its fourth iteration. This year belongs to Baghramian, an Iranian-born artist who came to Berlin at 14 as a refugee. (Amir Hamja/The New York Times)

by Roberta Smith



NEW YORK, NY.- There are some offers an artist cannot refuse — and first among them is the annual Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, now in its fourth iteration. Unless you’re someone who doesn’t mind the prospect of being forever haunted by what-ifs, you gird your loins and accept the assignment, which is to create sculpture for display in one of the most visible and challenging spots in the New York art world — that is, the four domed niches embedded in the Neoclassical facade of the Met’s main entrance on Fifth Avenue. Each niche frames a plinth and is in turn framed by a pair of robust columns two stories high. The viselike setting is spatially difficult yet culturally rich in opportunities to comment on the treasure house — with its power, prestige, human vanity and folly — just beyond.

So you accept and hope your response to the site is commensurate with your achievement. This tends not to happen. The three artists chosen thus far — Wangechi Mutu, Carol Bove and Hew Locke — have done well enough, but it may be best to lower expectations. The Met’s facade is an oppressive windmill to tilt at. Selectees should be granted a certain amount of slack.

Now it is Nairy Baghramian’s turn. An Iranian-born artist who came to Berlin at 14 as a refugee, she is among the best sculptors of her generation, which includes artists like Bove, Huma Bhabha and Leilah Babirye. All use the past to enliven the sculptural present, erase boundaries between styles and cultures, and employ new materials and techniques.

Baghramian, who has shown widely in Europe but not so much in this country, has lifted sculpture’s possibilities, for which she has won many honors, among them the 2022 Nasher Prize for “works highlighting the poignant, contradictory, and sometimes humorous circumstances that can suffuse both the artistic process as well as everyday life.” (It was accompanied by her large U.S. exhibition at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.) As an artist, she has given herself an unusually wide latitude.

She specializes in quietly eccentric abstract forms often made of epoxy resin, rubber and aluminum, finished in subtle matte colors. Her pieces fuse the organic and the geometric while invoking architecture, design, the body and other sculpture, from Jean Arp to Eva Hesse to Matthew Barney. The work has restraint, wit and, at its best, an unexpected emotional depth, even sentience. Sometimes, the sculptures almost have a life of their own.

The pieces displayed on the Met’s facade represent a change, possibly a transition for the artist. They depart from the absorptive quiet of previous works. They’re brash and noisy; their forms seem to be in motion. They romp through color, some of the brightest Baghramian has ever used or that have ever been seen on this facade.

The sculptures consist of two or more large irregular forms cast in aluminum from chunks of Styrofoam shaped and textured in different ways. They are powder-coated in bright red and blue, a heavy lavender and various greens. Some resemble rocks; others suggest pieces from eroding ruins. In three, whiplash cords or ribbons of orange, pink or yellow move through or are suspended above them. The rocklike elements rest on or lean against white gridded aluminum that, according to placement, resembles a Sol LeWitt sculpture, a supersize garden trellis or a fancy storage pallet.

It can be hard to get a bead on what you’re looking up at. Moving around the Met’s big porch, you can see different parts, but that doesn’t make the totality clearer. The way some pieces are cantilevered over the edge of the niche give the ensemble a temporary, precarious look, like avalanches poised to happen.




Baghramian’s project was conceived in consultation with Akili Tommasino, an associate curator. To Baghramian’s credit, she avoids a traditional theme-and-variation predictability, making each piece different in this commission, whose general title is “Scratching the Back.” (The titles of individual works refer to colors of the ribbons.) Going from left to right, arrangements become increasingly complex, suggesting different dramas. The first, simplest and most peaceful lacks even a ribbon. It consists only of two wedges of light and dark blue sitting on separate pallets at different levels. The lower leans on the upper in a decidedly tender gesture and announces the artist’s turn to stronger, shinier color. The chiseled surfaces are softened by thick, rippling paint that resembles glaze.

The next work features two tall vertical pieces — fragments of columns, perhaps — in pale green and lavender leaning on either side of the white grid, as if separated by a fence through which an orange ribbon darts freely. Each vertical is accompanied by a shorter element (perhaps a child). The scene looks familiar from a world full of refugees, but the implication of paired figures locked in a charged encounter and the delicate colors also bring to mind Renaissance master Pontormo’s “Visitation,” which was seen at the Morgan in 2018.

The third piece, to the right of the doors, is especially full. It leads off with a large boulder of deep sky blue and a curl of lavender ribbon. The boulder leans to the right, bullying a thin slab of green; at the back, a large wedge of bright red remains above the fray. And behind it, a grid reaching almost to the top of the niche is forestalling a tall broad sentry, blood red in color — an implicit reference to violence.

The final niche has its own intimations of chaos. A yellow ribbon undulates across a sandwich with three chunks of stone, suggestive of tumbledown buildings. The combination extends beyond the edge of the niche, waiting for the next surge.

With forms propped or pitted against one another, Baghramian’s compositions subtly convey some of the unease and dread that permeate our time. The artist plays this instability against the seeming permanence of the Met and its values, and, literally, its stone facade. Baghramian’s stones, by contrast, seem on the verge of returning to nature. Their final lesson may be almost biblical — stone to stone, dust to dust — which is the illusory nature of all things, institutions included.



‘The Facade Commission: Nairy Baghramian, Scratching the Back’

Through May 28, 2024, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave., New York, (212) 535-7710; metmuseum.org.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










Today's News

September 18, 2023

Rocks not so solid on the Met's face

A spectacular marble cube rises at Ground Zero

Apollo Art Auctions presents exceptional antiquities, ancient art and militaria, Sept. 24

'Holy cow, we found an X-Wing.' Bidding starts at $400,000.

Withstanding the passage of time, but not the shaking of the Earth

AstaGuru to offer a diverse collection of works by leading contemporary artists

Tate appoints two new curators specialising in ecology and First Nations and Indigenous Art

Requiem by Chris Ofili unveiled at Tate Britain

The Dutch Golden Age comes to Bonhams with an important single-owner collection

National Air and Space Museum receives over $11 million from National Science Foundation

Jann Wenner defends his legacy, and his generation's

When the wig is a character: Backstage at Jocelyn Bioh's new play

In 'The Refuge Plays,' Nicole Ari Parker comes home

'Sea Chantey' night at the bar: A rowdy, joyous ritual for lxandlubbers

3 actors, 1 unshakable bond

Smithsonian American Art Museum releases 10 new digital comics

Latinas make breaking news in Smithsonian Spanish-language TV exhibition

The Rabbi whisperer: A playwright helps sermon writers find their voice

Echoing federal theater project, 18 towns plan simultaneous events

The most reprinted cartoon in 'New Yorker' history barks up Heritage's Illustration Art event in October

Coin collection stashed in Boston garage nears $1 million at Heritage Auctions

Beatrix Potter, Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren lead Heritage's Oct. 6 Illustration Art Auction

CIA discloses identity of second spy involved in 'Argo' operation

Melbourne's Coastal Art Trail: A Road Trip Expedition

Unsung Heroes: The Art Designers Behind Iconic NFT Collections

Concealing Perfection: The Art of Using Paint to Address Hairline Cracks

What is a Ultrasonic Flow Meter




Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 



Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

sa gaming free credit
Attorneys
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful