The steps of The Met are a ubiquitous New York City backdrop. Annually, they stage the grand entrance for the Met Gala. They made a regular cameo in Gossip Girl—which only confirmed their rite as a gathering place—and each year they serve as a display ground for the museum’s Facade Commission. This year the nooks and crannies of the 153-year-old institution’s Fifth Avenue facade are outfitted with colorful sculptures from artist Nairy Baghramian that while contemporary in their appearance stand for something rather historical.
Scratching the Back is the Iranian born, German artist’s first public installation in New York. It comprises four works, each nestled between the columns lining the facade. Made of cast aluminum polychrome, each piece’s form, use of shape, and color is unique.
According to a press release from the museum, the works “present a metaphor for the institution as a filter for historical fragments deemed representative or exemplary.” The title, it continued, “alludes to the need to move beyond superficially constructed cultural narratives”—perhaps a dig at the colonization of cultural and art institutions?
Max Hollein, The Met’s CEO, said in a statement, “Defying traditional conventions of sculpture, the artist’s colorful abstract forms appear to spill out from The Met’s sculpture niches—in stark contrast to the monochrome classical architecture of the facade. Her bold yet fragile structures manifest powerfully composed transformations of space, material, and physical relationships.”
Three of the pieces prominently feature a Tortillon, a spiraling, cord-like piece that appears to join the other “fragments” of the individual works together.
Scratching the Back: Drift (sans Tortillon) does away with the twisted rods and presents as a simple composition of two blue hunks paired with a steel frame painted white. In each work the use of color varies, featuring shades of pastel purples, greens, and deep blues. The shapes similarly take on disparate forms, ranging from boulder-like masses to tall, tapering slabs.
The commission was funded by the Jane and Robert Carroll Fund, the Director’s Fund, Angela A. Chao and Jim Breyer, Robert Denning, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky, and The Hayden Family Foundation, with additional support from Marguerite Steed Hoffman, Melony and Adam Lewis, Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger, Jerry Speyer and Katherine Farley, and Carlo Bronzini Vender and Tanya Traykovski.
Scratching the Back is on view on The Met’s Fifth Avenue entrance through May 28, 2024.