Siah Armajani in NYC

John Hill
20. February 2019
All photographs by John Hill/World-Architects

A major retrospective at the Met Breuer and the re-staging of a nearly 50-year-old installation in Brooklyn Bridge Park highlight the amazing, architectonic oeuvre of Iranian-American artist Siah Armajani.

If any artist should be liked by all architects, it's Siah Armajani. The sculptures and installations of the Iranian-born, Minneapolis-based artist incorporate architectural features, leading to him being described often times as an architect rather than an artist. But architecture – particularly vernacular architecture – is not the subject of his art; he uses the language of building to explore ideas that are abstract, philosophical, poetic, and political.

Siah Armajani: Follow This Line is a major retrospective on the artist, organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. On display at the Met Breuer from today until June 2, 2019, the exhibition moves from the artist's early conceptual and mathematical works to his decades-long Dictionary for Building series and maquettes for his well-known large-scale installations.

World-Architects got a peek at the must-see exhibition and Bridge Over Tree, the companion installation in Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

"Siah Armajani: Follow This Line" occupies the whole fourth floor of the Met Breuer.
The exhibition features many of the artist's conceptual works (proposals for an 18-mile high skyscraper in North Dakota and a 48,000-mile high tower extending into outer space are highlights), but it's the many pieces from his "Dictionary for Building" series, housed in numerous small vitrines, that come to the fore.
A large table at one end of the large gallery space is covered with models of "houses," most of them "absurdly dysfunctional," in the words of Met curator Clare Davies.
Armajani's models are more aligned with traditional buildings rather than capital-A Architecture, echoing the artist's assertion that Robert Venturi's "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture" had a strong impact on him because of its "attitude of inclusion, not exclusion."
A smaller gallery displays a number of Armajani's bridges, some of them incorporating small houses, a recurring theme in his work.
A final gallery in the exhibition of primarily studio works includes "Sacco and Vanzetti Reading Room #3," installed originally in 1988 in Frankfurt.
With books and other publications about racial violence in the US, here the full-scale installation invites museumgoers to "take a seat, spend time with the reading material, and take home one of the pencils."
A full-scale installation that coincides with "Siah Armajani: Follow This Line" is located about six miles away from the Met Breuer in Brooklyn Bridge Park. "Bridge Over Tree" was first installed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1970, nearly 50 years ago.
The Public Art Fund re-staged the full-size, interactive artwork on a patch of grass between the Brooklyn Bridge (photo at top) and the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood.
Like the artist's houses, the construction is absurd, unnecessarily bridging over a tree with steps that are steeper inside than they appear from outside. But it's also "intrinsically political: it encourages connectivity and dialogue among strangers as they walk over and around the bridge," in the words of Public Art Fund's Nicholas Baume.

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