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Drawing connection

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

The Metropolitan Museum of Art to showcase contemporary works by three artists.

Wangechi Mutu has been selected to create sculptures for The Met’s Fifth Avenue façade 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. Additionally, Kent Monkman will create monumental new paintings for the Museum’s Great Hall, which will be on view from December 19, 2019, through April 12, 2020.

This spring, The Met will also present the world premiere of Ragnar Kjartansson’s immersive video installation Death is Elsewhere (2017–2019) in the Robert Lehman Wing atrium, where it will be on view from May 30 through September 2, 2019.

“Artists have long engaged with The Met’s collection, drawing connections between contemporary practices and 5,000 years of world culture,” said Max Hollein, Director of the Museum. “These projects are a manifestation of The Met’s desire and ability to collaborate with artists and current artistic production in an unusual way. The Met itself, the building, and its public spaces will become temporary platforms for presenting new work, offering powerful opportunities to display contemporary art for our broad audience to experience.”

“The Met has long been a home for generations of artists in New York and also from across the world,” said Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art. “We are honored to have Mutu, Monkman, and Kjartansson join that lineage, not only drawing inspiration from The Met’s rich collections, but also thinking what it means to cross the threshold of a great Beaux-Arts building in contemporary terms.”

The Museum’s Beaux-Arts Fifth Avenue façade and Great Hall, designed by the architect and founding Museum Trustee Richard Morris Hunt, opened to the public in December 1902. The installation of Mutu’s sculptures in the façade niches is the first-ever display of art on the façade.

As the Museum’s grand and ceremonial welcoming space, the Great Hall often features art from across time and cultures, from the Egyptian statue of a pharaoh and the Hellenistic Greek sculpture of Athena that preside there now to more recent installations of work by Piotr Uklański (2014), Andy Warhol (2012), and John Baldessari (2010), as part of related exhibitions.

Meet the artists

Ragnar Kjartansson (born 1976) lives and works in Reykjavík. Considered to be one of the most dynamic and creative artists of his generation, he incorporates a variety of fine arts techniques (including painting, drawing, installation, video, and performance art) in his artistic practice, as well as elements derived from literature, theater, opera and other musical genres, film, and popular culture, to create compelling works in which he merges such things as irony and sincerity, and duration and repetition to elicit a range of emotions from the viewer.

Central to his oeuvre is the exploration of the persona of the artist and that of the performer. While some of his works are characterized by elaborate sets and props, with the artist and others adopting fictional characters, other pieces are marked by an almost voyeuristic or cinema-vérité quality in which the artist and his collaborators sing and perform—separately or together—seemingly unaware of our presence, as in The Visitors (2012).

Kent Monkman, born in Canada in 1965, is a Cree artist who is widely known for his provocative interventions into Western European and American art history. He explores themes of colonization, sexuality, loss, and resilience—the complexities of historic and contemporary.

Indigenous experiences—across a variety of mediums, including painting, film/video, performance, and installation. Monkman’s gender-fluid alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle often appears in his work as a time-traveling, shape-shifting, supernatural being who reverses the colonial gaze to challenge received notions of history and Indigenous peoples.

Born in Nairobi in 1972 and trained at Yale, from which she received her MFA in sculpture in 2000, Wangechi Mutu is one of the most distinguished artists of her generation. Over the years, her work has been centered on the practice of dissecting, reconstituting, and recontextualizing various ideas, images and materials, thus constructing new ways of looking at what we have already seen, or highlighting, what we have never actually looked at.

In her paintings, Mutu has used collage as a way to make sense of her own experience as a woman who emigrated at a young age from her birth country Kenya, and had to describe and reconfigure herself within a population that was not familiar with her culture.

Her method of meticulously slicing images apart and then restoring them to one whole arouses the consciousness of inherent alienation, and proposes the need of alternative identities to both withstand social norms and rewrite the rules that bind our imagination.

An otherworldly and layered technique is present in her films, her performances, and her object works, where she ingeniously represents new versions of history, using tropes of mythology and anthropology to construct powerful female subjects.

Female empowerment is the inspiration, the solution and the result of much of her work. In her three-dimensional work she portrays characters that have succumbed and succeeded, transformed and survived, and scrutinizes the inequalities of race and gender, which she also feels are inherently linked to environmental degradation.

Using organic materials, metal and recycled objects, she references the mythology and classical artistic expressions of several African cultures, and delivers a compelling alternative to traditional modes of representation.

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