The Metropolitan Museum of Art has acquired Rashid Johnson’s 2019 mixed-media work The Broken Five, which debuted at the artist’s solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in New York that same year. The piece has not been on view since that showing, and it is the first unique work by Johnson to enter the institution’s collection, following its acquisition of an untitled etching by the artist from 2015.
Johnson announced the Met’s latest acquisition of his work in an Instagram post this week, writing, “It was a real joy to see my work, The Broken Five, recently acquired by and exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum.” The Broken Five, which incorporates ceramic, mirrored glass, spray paint, black soap, and other materials, has recently gone on view in a suite of galleries on the museum’s second floor where works by Jackson Pollock, Sam Gilliam, Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning, and other marquee names of the postwar era hang alongside abstract works by artists of more recent generations.
The Met has been working on buying The Broken Five since it went on view at Hauser & Wirth. The pandemic has slowed the acquisition process somewhat, and the museum is still finalizing the purchase. Ian Alteveer, a curator of modern and contemporary art at the Met who played an integral role in the acquisition, told ARTnews that the work represents the artist in the collection “in a really impactful and robust way.”
Alteveer continued, “It is a kind of kaleidoscopic vision that incorporates so much of [Johnson’s] practice today—something that is a painting and a sculpture all at once. The Broken Five is a wall relief that carries with it all this weight of history in his work but also speaks to the emergence over the past six years of these ‘anxious’ and ‘broken’ figures in the practice.”
The curator said the five figures that make up the piece’s composition have a “semi-autobiographical” quality to them. The work as a whole also addresses how the world bears witness to issues of racial justice, police violence, environmental crises, and other socio-political concerns.
According to Alteveer, the acquisition also aligns with the collection’s “deep interest in augmenting and centering Black artists,” which “is a tradition we’ve been building on, I think really successfully, in recent years,” he said.
The Broken Five will remain on view in the coming months, and Alteveer pointed out that one of the images of the work that Johnson posted to Instagram features Gilliam’s 1968 Carousel State, an unstretched acrylic on canvas painting affixed to the wall.
“Those two works, fifty years apart from each other, hang so beautifully together and share some of the same traditions about questioning and running with modes of abstraction to speak to all kinds of different contexts and stories,” Alteveer said.