Siah Armajani (b. 1939, Tehran) moved to the United States from Iran in 1960. He attended Macalester College in Minnesota, where he studied philosophy, and now lives and works in Minneapolis. His sculptures, drawings and public works exist between the boundaries of art and architecture, informed by democratic and populist ideals. Armajani is recognised as a leading figure in the conceptualisation of the role and function of public art, with nearly one hundred projects realised internationally since the 1960s.
The artist’s education in Western thought and philosophy began in Tehran, where he attended a Presbyterian school for Iranian students, and continued through his undergraduate years in the US. Early theoretical interests continue to influence his work, taking form in objects and architectural spaces designed in homage to literary, philosophical and political figures like Martin Heidegger, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodor Adorno, Ahmad Shamlou and Alfred Whitehead.
American vernacular architecture has been a consistent visual motif in Armajani’s practice, and is manifest in his public works, including bridges, gardens and outdoor structures. In the artist’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 neighbourly’. These concerns take form in his ongoing series titled Reading Rooms and Reading Gardens, as well as public spaces, pavilions and shelters for social exchanges or solitary meditation. Armajani’s Tombs series (1972–2016) references both American modernist and vernacular architecture, playing tribute to figures including Walt Whitman, John Berryman, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, amongst others.
Armajani’s most celebrated public artworks are bridges, walkways and gardens, including the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (1988), Minneapolis; the World Financial Center’s promenade (in collaboration with Scott Burton and Cesar Pelli), Battery Park City, New York; Gazebo for Two Anarchists, Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York; Floating Poetry Room, Ijburg, Amsterdam; Bridge for Iowa City, University of Iowa; and numerous gardens at Villa Arson Museum, Nice. He was commissioned to design the Cauldron for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
The artist has been the subject of more than fifty solo exhibitions since 1978, including surveys and retrospectives at Parasol unit, London (2013); the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2008); Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva (2007, tour); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (1999, tour); Villa Arson, Nice (1994); Lannan Foundation, Los Angeles (1992); Kunsthalle Basel (1987); Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster (1987, tour); and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (1985). The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is planning a large-scale retrospective of Armajani scheduled to open in 2018.
His work has also been featured in group exhibitions, including Passages in Modern Art: 1954–1966, Dallas Museum of Art (2016); Cycle Des histoires sans fin, séquence automne–hiver 2015–2016, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva (2015); Art Expanded, 1958–1978 and Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2014); Iran Modern, Asia Society, New York (2013); Spectacular of the Vernacular, Minneapolis Institute of Arts (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 (1988); Skulptur Projekte Münster ’87 (1987); International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1984); 74th Annual American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago (1982); Whitney Biennial; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1981); 39th Venice Biennale, American Pavilion (1980); Information, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970); and Documenta 5 (1972), 7 (1982) and 8 (1987), Kassel.
Armajani’s work is in numerous public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Dallas Museum of Art; the British Museum, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.