American artist Carol Bove (born 1971) has created four sculptures for The Met Fifth Avenue’s facade niches. The Facade Commission: Carol Bove, The séances aren’t helping is the second commission to be featured on the Museum’s facade and will be on view through fall 2021. Made of sandblasted, contorted stainless-steel tubes and five-foot-wide reflective aluminum disks, the sculptures appear astoundingly lithe and supple, almost mercurial, despite their weight and heft—an effect Bove achieves by pushing her materials to their physical limits using incredible force. Projecting outward from the niches, the works confound perception.
As Bove notes in her Artist Statement, The four sculptures sit impolitely in the niches, a little too close to the building’s front. Too big for the pedestals themselves, they claim the face of the building for a frame. With the understanding that many people see the facade from a car, five-foot-wide mirrored disks (matching the diameter of the Museum’s pillars and the portrait medallions) occupy each of the niches and are pushed toward the front of the facade to create a rhythmic pattern for a viewer traveling downtown. The crisp aluminum circles are supported by crushed and crumpled stainless-steel tubes that have been shaped by incredible force but belie the process to look light and improvised—doodles produced by playing with Art Deco forms and lighthearted cartooning. When encountered on foot, the tubes gain importance and the sculptures become individualized, like colossal figures.
Max Hollein, the Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, said, “Carol Bove has transformed The Met’s historic exterior with four commanding yet playful sculptures. These colossal figures and abstract entities engage powerfully with their surroundings, beckoning to visitors and reflecting the changing light throughout the day. We look forward to sharing these works with New York.”
Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art, added, “The Met’s Beaux-Art architecture is 119 years old but—like the niches that were left empty—the Museum itself is an ongoing, unfinished project, always changing. Old certainties wither in this new era: Bove’s sculptures speak directly to this, upending tradition but upholding the power of culture to question. They are dynamic provocateurs.”
Bove was born in California but moved to New York in the 90s, graduating from NYU in 2000. As an artist Bove uses a wide range of materials, including steel, concrete, books, driftwood, peacock feathers and foam. She is best known for her large-scale sculptures, which she has described as ‘big and heavy, but fragile’. Her work has been seen all over the country and all over the world, including New York, London, Paris, Venice, Milan and Glasgow. Bove works improvisationally and sculpts at scale and in the round, without preparatory drawings. For this commission, she used a one-to-one mock-up of the Museum’s empty niches that was created in her studio. “Seen from Fifth Avenue,” Jason Farago writes in The New York Times, “they appear like a quartet of performers. They almost appear to dance as you pass the museum’s four blocks of frontage, like illustrations in a zoetrope. They have an unexpected lightness that belies the steel, and the crunch and crush of their making.”
Known for works that incorporate found and constructed elements with a unique formal, technical, and conceptual inventiveness, Bove stands as one of the foremost contemporary artists working today; her work has consistently challenged and expanded the possibilities of formal abstraction. As Johanna Burton notes, “The artist mines the expressive potential of materials and encourages different narrative events to emerge… Her works carry historical references and the history of the material themselves, yet her output is arrestingly singular.”
The Facade Commission: Carol Bove, The séances aren’t helping was conceived by the artist in consultation with Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the project curator, Shanay Jhaveri, Assistant Curator of International Modern and Contemporary Art, both of The Met’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.
All images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo Bruce Schwarz