Exhibitions/ The Facade Commission: Wangechi Mutu, The NewOnes, will free Us

The Facade Commission: Wangechi Mutu, The NewOnes, will free Us

At The Met Fifth Avenue
September 9, 2019–November 1, 2020

Exhibition Overview

The NewOnes, will free Us, by Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu, inaugurates an annual commission to animate The Met's historic facade. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1902, the facade features four niches that were always intended to house free-standing sculptures, but have long lain empty. In filling them now with Mutu's extraordinary sculptures, the Museum brings to fruition a dream 117 years in the making.

Mutu has responded to The Met's invitation by creating four bronze sculptures, individually titled The Seated I, II, III, and IV (2019). As with all of her work, these pieces engage in a critique of gender and racial politics that is as pointed as it is poetic and fantastic. With The NewOnes, will free Us, the artist has reimagined a motif common to the history of both Western and African art: the caryatid, a sculpted figure, almost always female, meant to serve as a means of either structural or metaphorical support.

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 confined to her role as load-bearer. For her part, Mutu stages a feminist intervention, liberating the caryatid from her traditional duties and her secondary status. Mutu does so, moreover, in the context of a Neoclassical facade, whose original architects sought to convey a far more conservative set of values.

Simultaneously celestial and humanoid, each sculpture is unique, with individualized hands, facial features, ornamentation, and patination. Mutu's embellishments take a great deal of inspiration from customs practiced by specific groups of high-ranking African women. The horizontal and vertical coils that sheathe the figures' bodies, functioning as garment and armor all in one, reference beaded bodices and circular necklaces, while the polished discs set into different parts of the sculptures' heads allude to lip plates. Belonging to no one time or place, Mutu's hybrid figures are invariably stately, resilient, and self-possessed. They announce their authority and autonomy. Appearing to have recently arrived on the facade of The Met, they are the "new ones" who bring word of new ideas and new perspectives.

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.

Note: This exhibition’s dates have been postponed due to the Museum’s temporary closure. This page will be updated as we know more.

Audio Feature

"I've chosen to stick with the subject of the female body as a platform for what we feel about ourselves as humans." Listen to Wangechi Mutu discuss the meaning of her four seated figures.

Featured Media


"Mutu elevates her women to a position of power, imbuing them with an infectious confidence . . ." —Brooklyn Rail

"These graceful, commanding figures will change the face of the museum, literally and figuratively." —New York Times

"Carries all manner of poignant historical, political, and redemptive narratives . . ." —W Magazine

"Mutu's four bronze sculpture express resilience and wisdom." —Hyperallergic

This installation is part of a new series of contemporary commissions at The Met in which the Museum invites artists to create new works of art inspired by the collection, establishing a dialogue between the artist's work, the collection, the space, and audiences.

The exhibition is made possible by Cathrin M. Stickney and Mark P. Gorenberg.

Additional support is provided by the Ford Foundation, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky, Sylvie Winckler, Jerry Speyer and Katherine Farley, and the Director's Fund.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in

Exhibition Objects

Wangechi Mutu on The NewOnes, will free Us

A bronze sculpture is seated in the Met's niches in front of a fountain

In this article, Wangechi Mutu discusses her sculptures' relationship to migrancy, aliens, and science fiction.

Message from the Director

A detail of a bronze sculpture of a woman

In this article, Director Max Hollein introduces the inaugural Fifth Avenue facade commission.


My Strength Lies

In this episode of MetCollects, curator Kelly Baum discusses Mutu's dipytch My Strength Lies (2006), which depicts "the aftermath of a violent struggle, possibly an act of genocide, colonial incursion, or alien invasion."

Marquee: Portrait of Wangechi Mutu, 2018. Photo by Cynthia Edorh. MetCollects: Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, b. 1972). My Strength Lies (detail), 2006. Ink, acrylic, photomechanically printed cut and pasted paper, contact paper, metallic sequin and glitter on two mylar sheets, each: 98 x 53 in. (248.9 x 134.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Bequest of Gioconda King, by exchange, 2019 (2019.133a, b). © Wangechi Mutu. Courtesy of the Artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. Director's Message: Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born 1972). The Seated II (detail), 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