Metropolitan Museum Unveils Imran Qureshi’s Roof Garden Installation

There’s more to the Met this spring than PUNK. Writer Nancy Lazarus headed up to the roof.

(Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

And how many rains must fall before the stains are washed clean? This question, posed by Pakistani poet Salima Hashmi, is at the heart of Imran Quereshi‘s latest work, created for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s roof garden. “This is an open space, and there will be lots of rain, so we’ll see what happens,” noted the artist.

During a rooftop museum press conference on Monday morning, the brisk weather cooperated, with partly sunny skies. But the theme of global violence and regeneration still casts a dark cloud over Qureshi’s artwork, on view through November 3.

Born in Hyderabad and now based in Lahore, Qureshi said he worked with the color red more as a political statement than to depict blood, but that changed in 2010, after a suicide bombing in his neighborhood. “When I saw TV images after the bombing, the area had transformed into a bloody landscape within seconds. I was thinking, how could a landscape full of life change so quickly? For me, this altered the meaning and symbolism of the color red.”

The artist specializes not only in expansive installations but also in miniature paintings in the style of the Mughal court. He said he’s fascinated by the New York City skyline, and for him the rooftop perspective reminds him of landscapes and miniature paintings.

Assistant curator Ian Alteveer said it took Qureshi about ten days, including breaks, to create his roof garden work. The artist used high-grade acrylic, rich in pigment and waterproof, so it did withstand the monsoon-like rains of the past weekend.

Imran Qureshi at work in the Met’s roof garden.

Sheena Wagstaff, the museum’s new chairman of modern and contemporary art, described the project’s “compelling simplicity,” and added details about Qureshi’s technique. He used “maroon paint, thinned with water, splashed across the surface.” With a tiny paintbrush, he “treats the pavement surface like a canvas” and creates patterns of ornamental leaves.

The mood of the work is far more somber than prior rooftop exhibits, and is the first two-dimensional project to be displayed there. As museum director Thomas Campbell remarked, “This signals a new perspective on the roof garden space. It’s an immersive installation that is stunningly beautiful, even though it draws on global themes of tragedy.”

Qureshi characterized the public’s typical response to violence. “Afterwards the reaction is to stay away from the bombing site since police keep the public at bay,” he said. “But at the roof garden the people are asked to walk on it. This takes you back and also starts a dialogue with life and a new beginning.”

The work will inspire “quiet and profound meditation on violence and how to transcend it,” Wagstaff said. “Your response to the work becomes part of it,” added former director Philippe de Montebello, who stopped by briefly to view the installation. It will certainly be interesting to see how domestic and international museum visitors react.

Nancy Lazarus’s last contribution to UnBeige explored Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s architectural inversion of Lincoln Center. Learn more about her at