Putting down roots: Wangechi Mutu takes over New Museum


The Kenyan-born American artist Wangechi Mutu is no stranger to multiplicity. “If a plant has just one root,” she said in a recent interview with The New York Times, “that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to stand straight and strong. The idea of having many roots, of having your feet really grounded in different places, is extremely empowering for me.”

Mutu’s gift for creating harmony from visual noise will take centre stage in Intertwined, an expansive survey of her work at the New Museum in New York. The exhibition, which will include more than 100 works tracing Mutu’s 25-year career, marks the first time the museum will dedicate the entire building to a single artist, creating a tableau that highlights the visual, ecological and political concerns of her practice.

The exhibition takes its name from Mutu’s watercolour collage Intertwined (2003) Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Minneapolis Museum of Art, gift of Mary and Bob Mersy; courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles

Since she graduated from Yale’s MFA programme in 2000, Mutu’s work has featured regularly in fairs, biennials and blockbuster exhibitions around the world. This exhibition cements Mutu’s transition from a renowned innovator into one of contemporary art’s most important voices, following on from her recent ground-breaking commission for the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a sculpture show at Storm King Art Center in Beacon, and a just-opened installation at the Sharjah Biennial.

The show’s title is taken from a 2003 watercolour collage depicting two human figures with hyena heads. The piece is a catalyst for “the themes that are present throughout her oeuvre—transmutation, doubling, ideas of interconnectivity and reciprocity, not just to one another, but to ourselves and our environments,” says the show’s co-curator Margot Norton. “There are many people who are familiar with one element of her practice or another, but we want to show that her work is consistently challenging her own ideas,” she adds.

Mutu’s bronze sculpture In Two Canoe (2022) Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery

The New Museum will also serve as a grander canvas for Mutu’s more ambitious ideas. “She’ll be doing some fun interventions in the space,” Norton says. “In Two Canoe (2022), which is a fountain bronze piece she recently showed at Storm King, will occupy the lobby area of the space, and she’ll be creating an environment for that work with blankets that are typically given out at crisis centres. She’ll also be creating a vinyl installation for the facade.”

Mutu may seduce her viewers with big, brash beauty, but it’s the radical strangeness of her art that will keep them coming back.

Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined, New Museum, New York, 2 March-2 June


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