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Press release

Siah Armajani: Follow This Line

Siah Armajani

Exhibition Dates:
February 20–June 2, 2019 
Exhibition Location:
The Met Breuer, Floor 4


Featuring nearly one hundred works made over the past 60 years, Siah Armajani: Follow This Line will be the first major U.S. retrospective of the preeminent Iranian-American artist Siah Armajani (born 1939). The exhibition will trace the development of Armajani’s art from his early days as a political activist in Tehran in the 1950s to his most recent installation, a series of sculptures that directly confronts the refugee crisis unfolding around the world today. It will also feature many never-before-seen and recently rediscovered works from the 1960s and 1970s—including the works on paper Prophet Ali (1963), Land Deeds (1970), and Factorial Which Produces a Hexagon (1971), and his computer-generated animations on film from 1970—as well as most of the approximately 150 works that exist today from the artist’s landmark series Dictionary for Building (1974–75), an installation originally composed of thousands of small-scale, architectural maquettes.

The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

“Throughout his career, Siah Armajani’s wide-ranging body of work—from drawings and sculptures to film and monumental installations—has been imbued with notions of exile, a timeless concept that remains deeply relevant,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “This exhibition will also consider the dynamic space between art and the public sphere that Armajani’s art explores.”

Armajani immigrated to the United States in 1960 and is best known for his influential works of public art of the 1980s and 1990s: bridges, gazebos, gardens, and reading rooms that are now located across the United States and Europe. Long captivated by the power of text and images to transform individuals’ deepest held beliefs and understanding of their place in the world, his oeuvre traverses cultural, disciplinary, and artistic boundaries. The artist’s practice can be explored in relation to what might be called an aesthetic of exile, an approach with clear ethical implications and one that makes space—real and conceptual—for the dislocated migrant figure who is central to the work, though visually absent from it. The works combine a wide range of references: political propaganda, religious sermons, handwritten letters, magic spells, the recitation of poems, songs broadcast on the radio, and architectural elements. As hybrid objects, they invite new readings and offer multiple perspectives, while resisting interpretation, obscuring legibility, and frustrating conventions of use. These two apparently contradictory gestures are central to the experience of exile.

Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art added, “This impressive body of work from Armajani’s lifetime is rooted in the deep reservoirs of history, philosophy and humanism, speaking to both Iranian and American experiences of immigration. He articulates age-old literary and artistic traditions through fascinating architectural structures that open up the meanings of public space. Interwoven in his work are an astounding range of references, from Russian Constructivism and computer programming to Rumi and Thoreau: he is a Renaissance man for our time.”

To coincide with the exhibition at The Met Breuer, the Public Art Fund will present a re-staging of Armajani’s seminal public art installation Bridge Over Tree (1970). The installation opens February 20, 2019, at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Empire Fulton Ferry lawn, in Manhattan.

Siah Armajani: Follow This Line is curated by Clare Davies, Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey, at The Met, with Victoria Sung, Assistant Curator, Visual Arts, at the Walker Art Center, assisted by Jadine Collingwood, Curatorial Fellow, Visual Arts at the Walker Art Center.

The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication by the Walker Art Center featuring new scholarship on Armajani, an illustrated chronology, and artist’s texts, as well as contributions by artists Nazgol Ansarinia, Sam Durant, Barbad Golshiri, and Slavs and Tatars. Lead support for the catalogue is provided by the Lannan Foundation.

Prior to its presentation at The Met Breuer, the exhibition debuted at the Walker Art Center, where it was on view until December 30, 2018.

Related Programs

On Friday, April 5 (6:30-7:30 pm), as part of the Museum’s MetFridays programs, artist Liam Gillick and art historian David Hodge will discuss Siah Armajani's work in the context of the history of public art from the 1980s to today and will share their insights on the evolving significance of social space in contemporary artistic practice. MetFridays—Siah Armajani and Public Art is free with Museum admission.

The exhibition is featured on the Museum's website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #SiahArmajani.



February 15, 2019

Image: Siah Armajani, Dictionary for Building: The Garden Gate, 1982–1983 (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; purchased with the aid of funds from William D. and Stanley Gregory and Art Center Acquisition Fund, 1983)

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