On a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Iranian-born artist Nairy Baghramian strolled the galleries with associate curator Akili Tommasino. Baghramian was focused on what the museum wasn’t showing—in this case, the backsides of classical sculpture. Many such works, she said, have rougher posteriors because they were intended for niches and only viewed from the front. “No care, no love, no detail,” she told the New York Times. “It’s a painful abstraction.”
So when the museum selected Baghramian for its annual Facade Commission, in which an artist creates sculptures to temporarily animate the empty niches along its Fifth Avenue exterior, she sought to cheekily subvert the polished image institutions present to the world. (Designed by Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1902, the facade has four niches that were intended to house freestanding sculptures but laid empty until the program launched in 2019.) From her Berlin studio, she fabricated sculptures made of cast aluminum polychrome forms that evoke flotsam snagged on steel lattice yet appear frozen in time, teetering on the verge of tumbling down from the niches.