Siah Armajani (1939–2020)

John Hill
31. August 2020
Some of the architectural maquettes on display in Siah Armajani: Follow This Line at the Met Breuer in 2019. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

Tehran-born sculptor Siah Armajani, who lived in Minneapolis since 1960 and created art with an architectural bent, died in Minneapolis on August 27 at the age of 81.

Armajani's death was announced on Thursday on Twitter by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York City institution that mounted Siah Armajani: Follow This Line in 2019, one year after its display at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The exhibition co-organized by the two institutions was billed as the first comprehensive US retrospective devoted to Armajani, an artist best known for public art that took the form of architectural structures, such as bridges, gazebos, and stairs.

Bridges were a favorite theme of Armajani's sculptures. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

Architecture, though, was not necessarily the subject of his art. As I wrote on seeing the impressive exhibition in February 2019, "[Armajani] uses the language of building to explore ideas that are abstract, philosophical, poetic, and political." The architectonic maquettes and full-size sculptures were more indebted to vernacular architecture than capital-A architecture, illustrating his kinship with Robert Venturi's "attitude of inclusion, not exclusion." 

On occasion of Siah Armajani: Follow This Line in 2019, the artist's iconic Bridge Over Tree was installed temporarily in Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

In Armajani's hands, such structures as Bridge Over Tree — it was originally installed at the Walker in 1970 then restaged in Brooklyn in 2019 — were absurd (why bridge over a tree?) but also memorable, especially when experienced directly. Armajani explained it best, when he wrote in "Manifesto: Public art in the context of American democracy" that public art "should not intimidate or assault or control the public. It should be neighborly. It should enhance a given place."

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