The Metropolitan Museum of Art roof garden is the site of the first commissioned installation by an African American artist. Lauren Halsey’s “the eastside of south central los angeles hieroglyph prototype architecture (I)” (gallery 926) is a large-scale architectural structure installation that stands tall on the roof of the Met.
Halsey was commissioned by the Met just two years ago and worked on the project during COVID. Her creation is a site-specific work of art. It’s monumental and educational, and looks awesome against the backdrop of New York City, even at a misty-gray Monday morning press preview.
“My installation for the Met’s roof garden reflects my interest in conflating narratives from contemporary South Central Los Angeles with those evoked in ancient pharaonic architecture. My hope is that viewers in New York feel the connections intuitively,” said Halsey, who was born in Los Angeles in 1987.
The full-scale architectural structure is imbued with the collective energy and imagination of the South Central Los Angeles, and the community where she was born and continues to work. It rises 22 feet high and is composed of more than 750 glass-fiber reinforced concrete tiles. The cube-like structure is surrounded by four columns (borrowed from the Met’s collection) and four sphinxes. The faces on top resemble members of Halsey’s family.
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In her work, Halsey rethinks the possibilities of art, architecture, and community engagement. She produces both stand-alone artworks and site-specific projects. Combining found, fabricated, and hand-made objects, Halsey maintains a sense of civic urgency and free-flowing imagination in her art. Her work reflects the lives of people and places around her. It also addresses the crucial issues confronting people of color, queer populations, and the working class. Inspired by Afro-futurism and funk, Halsey creates a visionary form of culture that is at once radical and collaborative.
The exhibit is easy to walk through and is educational through its related wall art and text. It has connections to sources as varied as ancient Egyptian symbolism, 1960s Utopian architecture, and contemporary visual expressions, such as tags that reflect the ways in which people aspire to make public places their own. It’s very much in the graffiti art family, with bold phrases like “Waz up Ken folk,” “You Ain’t who you think you are,” and “Build Autonomy, Solidarity.”
“We are incredibly excited for visitors to experience Lauren Halsey’s magnificent commission for the museum’s roof garden,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of the Met. “With this installation, Halsey channels the Met’s Egyptian art collections through the lens of Afro-futurism.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies and other sponsors support the exhibition. Halsey’s work is on display at the Met through October 22, 2023.