Treasures from the Met Ascend to Its Roof in a Scramble of Art History

Adrían Villar Rojas, The Theater of Disappearance on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

How would you navigate one of the world’s largest encyclopedic art museums, if all its systems to classify objects by region, culture, and time disappeared?

Argentinian artist Adrían Villar Rojas presents that very situation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he has uprooted artworks from their assigned departments and gathered them all in one space: the institution’s rooftop. Don’t worry — they’re replicas. The latest recipient of the museum’s Roof Garden Commission (and its youngest yet), Villar Rojas created detailed copies of nearly 100 objects from the Met’s sprawling collection, with the help of its technicians, who 3D-scanned the originals. The results are made of CNC-milled urethane foam that he and his assistants later coated with black and white industrial paint.

Adrían Villar Rojas, The Theater of Disappearance on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Beyond presenting what recalls an attic of wondrous artifacts, Villar Rojas took an extra step to splice together the scans, rescaling and seamlessly merging them to form the final 16 massive sculptures. Some also integrate scanned, life-sized statues; others, full-scale models of humans. The results are confounding contemporary hybrids of cultural pasts. Look closely, and each will reveal treasures culled from the Ancient Near East, Medieval Europe, and Africa, among other regions.

Titled The Theater of Disappearance, the installation, curated by Beatrice Galilee, reinterprets art history as established by one of the most influential Western institutions while also investigating the collecting practices that have shored up its troves. As its name suggests, it does so by relying on drama and grandeur: Villar Rojas, known for his larger-than-life works — usually of carefully handled clay — has entirely transformed the open-air space into a dystopian banquet hall where culture is the main meal, long-ago consumed. The otherworldly diorama was a result of conversations the artist had with the museum staff, from curators to conservators, to learn about the collection.

“In the process, he holds up a mirror to what we do at the museum, questioning the ideological stance of the museum and, in particular, how we choose to present cultural histories over time,” Sheena Wagstaff, the museum’s head of modern and contemporary art, said at the exhibition preview, adding that no other living artist has interacted with the Met’s staff as exhaustively as Villar Rojas.

The roof reflects this kick into overdrive. Sculptures lie on and surround the tables and chairs (these, too, are part of the installation, and are barred from weary bottoms), and the artist has redesigned the roof’s architecture to match the calcified party scene, from its benches to its pergola to the floor, which is now a…

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