from the Grey Art Gallery,
New York University Art Collection
This collection database features Iranian works from the Grey Art Gallery, New York University Art Collection. The gallery, which opened to the public in 1975, was endowed by Abby Weed Grey, who also donated some 1,000 works of modern art that she acquired during her frequent travels in Asia and the Middle East. Mrs. Grey was especially supportive of Iranian art, which comprises one-fifth of her collection at NYU.
Modern and Contemporary Art in Iran
from the Met
The modern art movement in Iran had its genesis in the late 1940s and early '50s. Politically, these were the years that saw the abdication of Reza Shah and increased contact with the West. Artistically, this was the period after the death of painter Kamal al-Mulk (1852–1940) and thus symbolically the end of a rigid adherence to academic painting. The culmination of these events allowed for a questioning of authority and resulted in the creation of a group of artists dedicated to creating a uniquely Iranian, modern idiom.
The 1949 opening of the Apadana gallery in Tehran, and the emergence of artists like Marcos Grigorian (born 1925) in the 1950s, signaled a commitment to the creation of a form of modern art grounded in Iran. Grigorian himself was interested in popular art, and especially the type of paintings created to accompany storytelling in coffeehouses. He commissioned and displayed such paintings, but in his own work he preferred a style that referred to the desert, indigenous dwellings, and their visual vocabulary of parched earth and mud.
"Invaluable ... Stimulating"
— New York Times
Iran Modern is the first major museum exhibition mounted with loans from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East to focus on Iran’s dynamic modern art scene. The exhibition spans the three decades prior to the 1979 Revolution, a period of great economic, political, and societal change in the country. By the mid-1970s Tehran, its capital city, had become an important cosmopolitan destination. Artists found new patronage especially from the government for exhibitions and festivals, such as the annual Shiraz Arts Festival, and the creation of new museums such as the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, which was actively acquiring both Iranian and international art for its collection.
The exhibition is organized thematically across two floors to highlight the broad range of styles developed during this productive period. It is not a comprehensive overview but instead the works in the exhibition serve as key examples of the pluralism and innovative spirit of the time. The exhibition begins on the second floor by introducing artists associated with the Saqqakhaneh movement, the first culturally specific modernist group of note whose works were influenced as much by Shi'ite folk art, as by pre-Islamic art and international formal strategies. The exhibition also includes sections focusing on Abstraction, Calligraphy, and Politics. Within each section, monographic highlights will allow select artists’ work to be seen in greater depth. On the third floor a timeline and a selection of ephemera from the period provide greater context for the works on view.
Through the presentation of over one hundred works by 26 artists, the exhibition chronicles the conversation between tradition and modernity and puts forward the idea of modernism as a globally interconnected phenomenon. Iran Modern illuminates an overlooked time of artistic creation that continues to resonate with contemporary artists working both inside and outside Iran.
The guest co-curators of this exhibition are Fereshteh Daftari and Layla S. Diba.