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date: 27 February 2020

Farmanfarmaian, Monirfree

Iranian, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 1924, in Qazvin, Iran.

Painter, sculptor. Abstract art, mosaic sculptures.

Monir Farmanfarmaian studied at the University of Tehran in the Faculty of Fine Art from 1944 to 1946. She then moved to New York City at age 20 to study at Parsons School of Design in 1946 and later at Cornell University in 1948. She is known for her abstract, reverse-glass paintings that are inspired by Islamic and Persian patterns. New York City exposed Farmanfarmaian to the avant-garde art scene; she attended the Eighth Street Club, a gathering of artists such as Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. She complemented her unique abstract style with modernist aesthetics. During her time in New York City, she received her first freelance job as a fashion illustrator at Glamour and created intricate ink-and-pen drawings of flowers inspired by the Persian Safavid (1501–1736) tradition. Farmanfarmaian pursued freelance fashion-illustration jobs until she was offered a full-time position with Bonwit Teller, collaborating with Andy Warhol on illustrations ranging from nudes to flowers.

In 1957, Farmanfarmaian returned to Iran and was influenced by ancient Persian folk art, including Turkoman jewelry and coffeehouse paintings. After visiting Shah Cheragh, an ancient Iranian shrine replete with reflecting mirrors in 1971, she devoted her practice to mirror mosaics and reverse-glass painting. She collaborated with the master craftsman Haji Ostad Mohammed Navid, incorporating Qajar paintings within glass fragments cut into stars, triangles, and crescents. These forms correspond to Islamic architectural spatial arrangements, and the mirror mosaics adhere to the mystical essence of Sufism. Geometry of Hope (1976) is composed of intricate green, reverse-painted glass fragments cut in square shapes that become a raised lattice within the surface.

Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Farmanfarmaian faced a 26-year exile in New York. She set up a studio in 1981 and began to produce commercial textile designs. Frustrated with the lack of mirror-mosaic training she received in Iran, she dedicated her period of exile to creating her what she called ‘memory boxes’ without any technical support. She returned to Iran in 2002 and in 2004 set up a permanent studio and workshop, where she continues to explore the Persian artistic traditions.

Group Exhibitions

1958, First Tehran Biennale, Iran

1958, Iranian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Italy

1964, Venice Biennale, Italy

1968, Center of Iranian Studies, Columbia University, New York, NY

1973, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium

1975, Grey Art Gallery, New York University

1982, Leila Taginia-Milani Gallery, New York, NY

1982, Art Students League, New York, NY

1986, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

2009, East-West Divan and Living Traditions: Contemporary Art from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, Venice Biennale, Italy

2010, There Is Always a Cup of Sea to Sail In, 29th Biennale de Sao Paulo, Brazil

2010, The Future of Tradition—The Tradition of Future, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany

2011, Jameel Art Prize, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom

2011, Rose Issa Projects, London, United Kingdom

2012, Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

2012, Towards a Warm Math, On Stellar Rays, New York, NY

2013, Iran Modern, Asia Society, New York, NY

2013, Re:emerge, Towards a New Cultural Cartography, Sharjah Biennial 11, United Arab Emirates

2013, Trade Routes, Hauser and Wirth, London, United Kingdom

2014, Seeing through Light, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection, Manarat al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

2014, The Language of Human Consciousness, Athr Gallery, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Solo Exhibitions

1963, Ecole des Beaux Arts, University of Tehran, Iran

1973, Iran American Society, Tehran, Iran

2000, Center for Iranian Modern Art, New York, NY

2006, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom

2007, Recollections, The Third Line, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

2007, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Mirror Mosaics, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom

2009, Art Basel Miami Beach, The Third Line, FL

2011, Zendegi, Beirut Exhibition Center, Lebanon

2012, Convertibles and Polygons, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX

2014, Monir Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibilities, Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal

2015, Monir Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibilities, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

Museum and Gallery Holdings

London (Tate Modern): Something Old Something New (1924, mirror glass, painted glass, and plaster on wood)

London (Victoria and Albert Mus.): Birds of Paradise (2008, mirror mosaic and reverse-glass painting)

New York (Metropolitan MA): Flight of the Dolphin

Auction Records

London, 24 Oct 2007: Floating Hexagon (2005, 43 × 43 ins/109.22 × 109.22 cm) GBP 11,000

London, 18 Oct 2008: Four Triangles in One (2007, mirror, old and new reverse glass, 63 × 63 × 63 ins/160 × 160 × 160 cm) GBP 34,850

Dubai, 29 April 2009: Untitled (2005, mirror, reverse-glass painting on wood, 47 × 47 ins/119 × 119 cm) USD 64,900

Dubai, 27 April 2010: Untitled (1962, acrylic on canvas, 48 × 26¼ ins/122 × 67 cm) USD 35,000

London, 4 Oct 2011: A New Spring (2007, mirror, reverse-glass painting on wood, 37 × 48 1/4 ins/93.5 × 122.5 cm) GBP 75,650

Doha, 22 April 2013: Variations on Hexagon (2005, mirror, reverse-glass painting on wood in aluminium frame, 39 ½ × 39 ½ ins/100.2 × 100.2 cm) USD 112,500

Doha, 13 Oct 2014: Three Brothers (2008, mirror, reverse-glass painting on wood, 66 ¾ × 28 ½ ins/169.5 × 72.6 cm) USD 233,000

Dubai, 18 March 2015, Zahra’s Image (2009, mirror mosaic, reverse-glass painting and plaster on wood in aluminium artist’s frame, 72 ¾ × 53 × 7 ½ ins/185 × 135 × 19 cm) USD 395,000

Bibliography

  • Stein, Donna: ‘Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’, in Woman’s Art Journal, vol 33, no. 1, 2012.
  • Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings 1974–2014, press release, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2015.
  • Farmanfarmaian, Monir Shahroudy: Monir: Works on Paper, LUMA Foundation, Zurich; Koenig Books, London; Marta and Cosentino, New York, 2015.
  • Kennedy, Randy: ‘Monir Farmanfarmaian, Iranian and Nonagenarian, Celebrates a New York Museum First’, in New York Times, March 2015.
  • Swanson, Carl: ‘An Iranian Artist Recalls Her Life in New York and Tehran’, in New York Magazine, March 2015.