Siah Armajani (b.1939) was born in Iran and moved to the United States in 1960 to attend Macalester College in Minnesota, where he continues to live and work. His sculptures and public works, informed by his democratic and populist ideals, exist between the boundaries of art and architecture. With nearly one hundred projects realized internationally since the 1960s, Armajani is recognized as a leading figure in conceptualizing the role and function of public art.
As a student in Tehran, Armajani was drawn to American philosophers and writers, and later studied American populist thought as a philosophy major in the U.S. These early theoretical interests continue to catalyze his work, taking form in objects and architectural spaces designed in homage to literary, philosophical, and political figures including John Dewey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodor Adorno, Ahmad Shamlou, and Luigi Galleani, among others. Curator Murtaza Vali describes Armajani’s sculptures as, “thoughtful modulations of space and things, emblematic of [Armajani’s] distinctive and extensive oeuvre that has primarily engaged with politics and philosophy at a formal level.”
American vernacular architecture has been a consistent visual motif in Armajani’s practice, and is embodied in his public works, including bridges, gardens, and outdoor structures. In Armajani’s words: “I am interested in the nobility of usefulness. My intention is to build open, available, useful, common, public gathering places—gathering places that are neighborly.” These concerns take form in his ongoing series of Reading Rooms and Reading Gardens, public spaces, pavilions, and shelters for social exchanges or solitary meditation. Armajani’s Tombs, his most recent sculptures series, are uninhabitable glass and wood structures that reference both American modernist and vernacular architecture, playing tribute to figures including Walt Whitman, John Berryman, Nicola Sacco, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, among others.
Armajani’s most celebrated public art works are bridges, walkways, and gardens, including the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, Minneapolis, MN; the World Financial Center’s promenade (in collaboration with Scott Burton and Cesar Pelli), Battery Park City, New York; Gazebo for Two Anarchists at Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY; Floating Poetry Room, Ijborg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Bridge for Iowa City, University of Iowa; and numerous gardens at Villa Arson Museum, Nice, France. Armajani was commissioned to design the Cauldron for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Celebration in Atlanta, GA.
Siah Armajani has been the subject of over fifty solo exhibitions since 1978; including surveys and retrospectives at Parasol unit, London (2013); Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO (2008); Musee d’art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland (2007, tour); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (1999, tour); Vila Arson, Nice, France (1994); Lannan Foundation, Los Angeles, CA (1992); Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (1987); Westfalischs Landesmuseum, Munster, Germany (1987, tour); and ICA Philadelphia, PA (1985). The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, is planning a large-scale retrospective of the artist scheduled to open in 2018.
The artist’s work has been included in extensive group exhibitions, including Passages in Modern Art: 1954 – 1966, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX (2016); Cycle Des Histoires Sans Fin, Séquence Automne-Hiver 2015-2016, Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCO), Geneva (2015); Art Expanded, 1958-1978 and Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (2014); Iran Modern, Asia Society, New York (2013); Spectacular of the Vernacular, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN (2011); Word Into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East, British Museum, London (2006); Far Near Distance: Contemporary Positions of Iranian Artists, House of World Cultures, Berlin (2004); Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, PA (1988); Sculptur Projekte Muster ’87, Germany (1987); International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1984); 74th Annual American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago, IL (1982); Biennial of American Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1981); 39th Venice Biennale, American Pavilion, Italy (1980); Information, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970); and Documenta 5 (1972), 7 (1982) and 8 (1987), Kassel, Germany.
Armajani’s work is in numerous public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; British Museum, London; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN; Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporarin, Geneva, Switzerland; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, IL; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany; National Gallery, Washington, DC; Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.