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Majestic Sculptures Grace the Facade of the Met Museum

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Four elegant African women currently grace the facade of the Met in New York City; each one is seated on her own elevated pedestal. And each one maintains a regal air.  These majestic bronze sculptures, the first in the new annual Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum, are the work of Kenyan-American artist Wangechi MutuYou. Have. To. See. Them. We did, and here’s our report.

Majestic Sculptures Grace the Facade of the Met Museum

A wonderful story is playing itself out right now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A new installation, called The NewOnes, will free Us, currently animates the building’s ornate facade. 

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Designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt, and unveiled for the first time in 1902, the facade of the museum has four niches that were meant to hold individual sculptures. But they were never filled. Now, 117 years later, not only do these Neo-Classical spaces – which have been secrets hiding in plain site – finally house site-specific works as Hunt envisioned. The works are representational sculptures of beautiful, commanding African women. Wow. 

wangechi mutu sculptures for the facade commission met museum
Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

who is Wangechi Mutu?

Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu, who works in a studio in Brooklyn, was selected for the inaugural Facade Commission. Going forward, this will be an annual commission to fill the four niches that are arrayed across the Fifth Avenue facade of the Met Museum.

Artist Wangechi Mutu’s sculptures are the inaugural Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Photo Courtesy: The New Yorker.

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The NewOnes, will free Us: a modern kind of caryatid

The work is comprised of four bronze sculptures, entitled The Seated I, II, III, and IV (2019). According the notes from the museum, “they represent the motif of the caryatid: a sculpted figure, almost always female, meant to serve as a means of either structural or metaphorical support.” 

If you have visited the Acropolis in Athens, you have seen such figures. The women are dressed elegantly, but they stand ramrod-straight and they are load-bearers. The weight of the roof is literally on their heads.

The Porch of the Caryatids at the Acropolis in Athens.

In Mutu’s work for the Metropolitan Museum, though, the women are liberated from such a limited role. For starters, they are seated, and not tasked with holding up the building, or anyone else.

They are adorned in the way that high-ranking African women traditionally dressed. Their mien is authoritative and self-assured. If you look closely, it appears that at least one of them is peering down right at you (that would be you, II).

The Seated I (2019)

Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Seated I. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

The Seated II (2019)

Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Seated II. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
 

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The Seated III (2019)

Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Met Museum of Art, New York: The Seated III. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

The Seated IV (2019)

Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Seated IV. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

As the Met notes: “they are the ‘new ones’ who bring word of new ideas and new perspectives.”

On the day that we first saw this installation, we were struck by how simultaneously radical and utterly unremarkable it is that in New York City we have images of strong women of color in iconic form before us. 

Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Met Museum of Art, New York: The Seated III and IV. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

To our amusement, it even felt as if these ladies were photo-bombing other people’s portraits.

Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Wangechi Mutu sculptures for the Facade Commission at the Met: The Seated I. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

The crowd on the stairs in front of the Met is as eclectic, diverse and international as lots of other places in Manhattan. Still, as black women we felt a special pride knowing that these four are there. It seemed as if they were keeping watch over us, standing sentinel on the ramparts, and serving as a warning to all: underestimate us at your peril.

how long will these statues be on display?

These works will remain in place until January 20, 2020. Promise us that if you’re in New York between now and then, you’ll stop by to see them. You’ll be moved.

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