Public artist of bridges and space and concerns for community, Siah Armajani at the Met Breuer
Public art nerds! Artblog contributor Andrea Kirsh penned a thoughtful piece on “Siah Armajani: Follow This Line” (on view NOW at the Met Breuer!) Armajani, who was forced to leave Iran in the 1960s for political reasons, creates witty works that comment on American building forms and pose questions about social interactions with public spaces. Don’t miss “Siah Armajani: Follow This Line” on view until June 2nd, 2019!

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Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Seven Rooms of Hospitality: Room for Deportees, 2017 3D-printed model. 12 1/4 × 14 3/4 × 5 3/16 in. (31.1 × 37.5 × 13.2 cm). Courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Seven Rooms of Hospitality: Room for Deportees, 2017 3D-printed model. 12 1/4 × 14 3/4 × 5 3/16 in. (31.1 × 37.5 × 13.2 cm). Courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi

Everyone interested in public art in the U.S. during the 1980s knew the work of Siah Armajani. He lead the field with work that actively questioned what constituted the “public” and how art might best serve it. He didn’t create sculptural objects, but rather sites — some interior, such as his “Louis Kahn Lecture Room” (1982) at Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia; he also designed buildings, bridges and gardens outdoors. His work involves social interaction with spaces and makes reference to vernacular, American building forms. But he skews those forms so that viewers are forced to think about what they would otherwise perceive as ordinary spaces and everyday interactions within and around them.

If Armajani’s work has received somewhat limited attention within the art world, it is because his most important work has operated outside the gallery/museum network of art for purchase and display. So it is most welcome, as well as timely, that the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) is showing Siah Armajani: Follow This Line at the Met Breuer through June 2. In connection with the exhibition the Public Art Fund has commissioned the re-creation of “Bridge Over Tree” (1970) on the Empire Fulton Ferry Lawn at Brooklyn Bridge Park, where it has a spectacular, river-front site between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Bridge over Tree, 1970 balsa wood, enamel paint, model tree, sandpaper. 8 × 10 × 34 in. (20.3 × 25.4 × 86.4 cm). Collection Max Protetch. Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Bridge over Tree, 1970. balsa wood, enamel paint, model tree, sandpaper. 8 × 10 × 34 in. (20.3 × 25.4 × 86.4 cm). Collection Max Protetch. Courtesy the artist

Armajani, who was forced to leave Iran because of his political activities in the 1960s, has a wide-ranging interest in both Persian and Western literature and philosophy and in science. He also embodies the immigrant’s view of American culture, where nothing is taken for granted. He brings all of this to his art, resulting in a body of work that lends itself to slow contemplation rather than a view from the distance or in passing. Armajani is interested in complex, ultimately political ideas about social life and how they are variously theorized, enacted, fostered, regulated, limited, prohibited and/or represented. His work is also an ongoing search for the appropriate, artistic means to express complex ideas. It does not provide easy answers, but invites interested viewers to join the artist on the journey.

A number of Armajani’s works bear the names of historical figures, many of them involved with utopian projects that failed. He dedicated four reading rooms to the anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti – who were executed as traitors by the U.S. government; they make reference to Alexander Rodchenko’s reading room for a worker’s club, itself reflecting utopian ideas about the place of art in the early Soviet state, ideas which did not last long. The artist has made numerous works that refer to study and the dissemination of knowledge: not only the reading rooms but a study garden, a schoolhouse, bookshelves, books and dictionaries.

Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Sacco and Vanzetti Reading Room #3, 1988. glazed wood, synthetic resin, glass, steel, brick, aluminum, pencils installed dimensions variable. MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main. Courtesy the artist. Photo credit: Axel Schneider
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939). Sacco and Vanzetti Reading Room #3, 1988. glazed wood, synthetic resin, glass, steel, brick, aluminum, pencils installed dimensions variable. MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main. Courtesy the artist. Photo credit: Axel Schneider

The form most associated with Armajani and which he has used most often is the bridge. He has made many bridge maquettes and several have been built. Some function in the manner of conventional bridges, others such as “Bridge Over Tree” are unconnected to separate masses of land – bridges that don’t bridge water or geological fissures. I suspect that bridges interest the artist because they embody the concept of contracts – mutual agreement — which is also necessary for successful social structures. After all, a bridge needs mutual agreement between the parties in charge of the land at both ends.

“Moon Landing” (1969), while a singular format, reflects several of Armajani’s recurring themes. It consists of a portable television set and five pages from the New York Times from the day after the U.S. landed a man on the moon; the artist has written over every single letter of the text, as if to absorb it through the act of re-inscribing it. The face of the tv tube bears the text: ”This tv has witnessed the Apollo 11 mission.” The statement goes on to say that it was turned on when the spacecraft took off and turned off eight days later, when the space capsule landed. The artist unplugged the tv set and didn’t use it again.

Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939). Moon Landing [detail], 1969. stenciled television, lock, ink on five double-sided sheets of newspaper. 13 1/2 × 12 1/2 × 9 in. (34.3 × 31.8 × 22.9 cm) television; 23 1/8 × 14 3/16 in. (58.7 × 37.6 cm) one newspaper; 23 1/8 × 29 5/8 in. (58.7 × 75.2 cm) four newspapers. Courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939). Moon Landing [detail], 1969. stenciled television, lock, ink on five double-sided sheets of newspaper. 13 1/2 × 12 1/2 × 9 in. (34.3 × 31.8 × 22.9 cm) television; 23 1/8 × 14 3/16 in. (58.7 × 37.6 cm) one newspaper; 23 1/8 × 29 5/8 in. (58.7 × 75.2 cm) four newspapers. Courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi
“Moon Landing”’s television, of course, witnessed nothing. But it was the conduit which enabled Armajani and millions of others around the globe to observe the Apollo mission in real time.The medium of television enabled mankind to follow a scientific and technological advance that shifted our relationship to the world beyond our own planet. This expanded horizon cannot be contained in a small, domestic appliance, yet the de-commissioned television set embodies the artist’s memory of a moment, and the international audience with whom he shared it — even as it poignantly marks the inevitable failure at capturing time and embodying knowledge.

The exhibition includes drawings, collage, paintings, film, sculpture, environments, a large number of maquettes and a slide show of public work. The superb catalog, “Siah Armajani; Follow This Line,” ISBN 9781935963196, was produced by the Walker Art Center, which organized the exhibition with the Met. It is a particularly valuable guide to the development of Armajani’s art in all its diversity. Numerous, clearly-written essays address his origins in Iran and the implications of exile, his interest in scientific developments, film work, use of American building forms and his public projects. It includes texts by the artist and by several younger artists influenced by his work, as well as the usual back matter. The sensitive design by Aryn Beitz supports the artist’s thought process, employing translucent paper so that each page hints at text on its reverse and the following page – yet it is surprisingly readable. Ideas are interconnected, as we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Siah Armajani: Follow This Line is on view at the Met Breuer, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021 until June 2, 2019.


More Photos

Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Dictionary for Building: Open Closet, 1974–1975 wood, paint, metal. 9 9/16 × 4 13/16 × 5 7/8 in. (24.3 × 12.2 × 15 cm). Collection MAMCO, Geneva Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Dictionary for Building: Open Closet, 1974–1975 wood, paint, metal. 9 9/16 × 4 13/16 × 5 7/8 in. (24.3 × 12.2
× 15 cm). Collection MAMCO, Geneva Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Dictionary for Building: The Garden Gate, 1982–1983 wood, paint, book. 95 1/8 × 32 1/4 × 74 in. (241.6 × 81.9 × 188 cm) Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Purchased with the aid of funds from William D. and Stanley Gregory and Art Center Acquisition Fund, 1983 Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Dictionary for Building: The Garden Gate, 1982–1983 wood, paint, book. 95 1/8 × 32 1/4 × 74 in. (241.6 × 81.9 × 188 cm). Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Purchased with the aid of funds from William D. and Stanley Gregory and Art Center Acquisition Fund, 1983 Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Dictionary for Building: Back Yard, 1974–1975 plastic maquette furniture, paint, plywood 3 1/16 × 8 1/8 × 10 1/16 in. (7.7 × 20.7 × 25.5 cm). Collection MAMCO, Geneva Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Dictionary for Building: Back Yard, 1974–1975 plastic maquette furniture, paint, plywood. 3 1/16 × 8 1/8 × 10 1/16 in. (7.7 × 20.7 × 25.5 cm). Collection MAMCO, Geneva. Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Wall, 1958. ink, fiber, watercolor, twine on cloth. 16 1/2 × 30 1/2 in. (41.9 × 77.5 cm). Collection Kristi and Dean Jernigan Courtesy the artist. Photo credit: Larry Marcus
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939). Dictionary for Building: Night, Morning, Noon Windows, 1974–1975 cloth, wood, plastic, paint 3 3/4 × 7 3/8 × 5 1/2 in. (9.5 × 18.7 × 14 cm) Collection MAMCO, Geneva Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939). Dictionary for Building: Night, Morning, Noon Windows, 1974–1975 cloth, wood, plastic, paint 3 3/4 × 7 3/8 × 5 1/2 in. (9.5 × 18.7 × 14 cm) Collection MAMCO, Geneva. Courtesy the artist
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Dictionary for Building: Tabletop Bookshelf, 1982–1983 wood, paint, book. 79 × 48 × 49 in. (200.7 × 121.9 × 124.5 cm) Private collection. Courtesy the artist and Max Protetch
Siah Armajani (Iranian-American, born Tehran, 1939) Dictionary for Building: Tabletop Bookshelf, 1982–1983 wood, paint, book. 79 × 48 × 49 in. (200.7 × 121.9 × 124.5 cm). Private collection. Courtesy the artist and Max Protetch
Tags

alexander rodchenko, art and literature, aryn beitz, bridge, brooklyn bridge park, collage, drawings, empire fulton ferry lawn at brooklyn bridge park, environments, film, fleisher art memorial, immigration, iranian art, maquettes, Met Breuer, metropolitan museum of art, paintings, persian literature, public art, public art fund, public spaces, reading room, sacco and vanzetti, sculpture, siah armajani, social space, vernacular architecture, vernacular building, walker art center

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