The Met Acquires Commissioned Works by Wangechi Mutu
Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born 1972). The Seated I, 2019. Bronze, 80 3/4 x 31 3/4 x 37 1/4 in. (205.1 x 80.6 x 94.6 cm). Work of art © Wangechi Mutu. Courtesy of the Artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Hazen Polsky Foundation Fund and Cynthia Hazen Polsky Gift, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2020
With The NewOnes, will free Us, Mutu has reimagined a motif common to the history of both African and Western art: the caryatid, a sculpted figure, usually but not always female. 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 cast as a load bearer. In her approach, Mutu stages a feminist intervention, liberating the caryatid from her traditional duties and reimagining her as an independent force, a queen in her own right. Mutu does so, moreover, in the context of a neo-classical facade whose original architects sought to convey a far more conservative set of values. Mutu’s bronze sculptures—known individually as The Seated I, II, III, and IV—depict four otherworldly female figures. Simultaneously celestial and humanoid, each sculpture is unique, with individualized hands, facial features, ornamentation, and patination. In designing their embellishments, Mutu found inspiration in customs practiced by specific groups of high-ranking African women. The horizontal and vertical coils that sheathe the figures’ bodies reference beaded bodices and circular necklaces, while the polished discs set into different parts of their heads allude to lip plates. These same discs reflect light and images from the surrounding environment, beckoning to viewers. Sentinels, protectors, and messengers all in one, Mutu’s sculptures affirm the liberating power of new ideas, new people, new forms of knowledge, and new ways of living. The NewOnes, will free Us constitutes one of Mutu’s most important and remarkable bodies of work to date, the culmination of two decades of sustained artistic experimentation and rigorous research into the relationship between power, culture, and representation. Given the commission from which they sprung and the thousands of years of art history to which they relate, The Seated I and III make for acquisitions that are both fitting and exciting. The Met has been immeasurably enriched by the presence of these works on its facade and now, in its collection as well.
This year’s “Women and the Critical Eye” series will take place virtually with a conversation between Mutu, and Kelly Baum, The Met’s Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator of Contemporary Art and project curator. The event can be streamed live this evening, July 28, from 5:30 to 6:30 pm, and will be available for viewing on the Museum’s website.
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