Kandinsky and Mondrian are two Western painters credited with pioneering the form of geometric abstraction. But artwork that focuses on patterns of color and shape rather than figuration goes back to ancient art forms, especially in Islamic Art, where depiction of religious figures has been carefully avoided in respect for the faith's ban on idolatry. The mirror sculptures of Monir Farmanfarmaian, an Iranian artist, bring together influences of Western avant-garde painting and centuries-old Islamic art in works of refraction and geometric abstraction. An opening reception this evening at The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, will kick off an exhibition of Farmanfarmaian's work that will continue through July 30, 2017.
Farmanfarmaian, still creating art into her 90s, was born in Iran, but her life has been divided between her native country and the West, with political upheaval a factor in the decades she's spent living and working in New York City. At the age of 21, after studying at the University of Tehran, she came to the U.S. in 1945 to study at Cornell University and Parsons School of Design. After graduation, she found work in the Bonwit Teller advertising department, where she befriended the up-and-coming Andy Warhol, the first of several famous American artists she would get to know in the vibrant New York art scene of the 1950s. After moving home to Iran in 1957, a visit to Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz inspired Farmanfarmaian to develop a mirrored style of geometric abstraction that she would devote her career perfecting.
The 1979 Iranian Revloution saw the artist's home confiscated and her art destroyed, and she live in exile for the next 26 years. When she finally was able to return to Iran in 2004, she rebuilt her studio collaboration with craftsmen and resumed work on her mirror sculptures.
According to Diane Wright, the museum's Barry Curator of Glass, "Monir's contemporary approach to an Iranian art form results in an extraordinarily complex and beautiful body of work that is unparalleled in the contemporary art world".
The exhibition will represent only a selection of works from the 93-year-old artist's first U.S. retrospective, "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings, 1974–2014," that was previously on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York back in 2015. The exhibit was organized by the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal, and curated by its director, Suzanne Cotter.
"Monir's contemporary approach to an Iranian art form results in an extraordinarily complex and beautiful body of work that is unparalleled in the contemporary art world," Wright says in a prepared statement. "We are thrilled for the opportunity to exhibit her mirror mosaics and drawings within the context of our glass galleries and as part of a more expansive, encyclopedic museum collection."
View the trailer from a documentary film about Monir Farmanfarmaian's remarkable career below.
IF YOU GO:Monir Farmanfaraian "Infinite Possiblity. Mirror Works and Drawings, 1974-2014" March 17 through July 30, 2017 The Chrysler Museum of Art One Memorial Place Norfolk, Virginia Tel: 757 664 6200 Website