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Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility

I lived in Tehran, Iran as a boy, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I recall a cosmopolitan city, teeming with people—and ideas—from around the world. At the school I attended, the twenty-odd kids in my fourth-grade class came from a dozen different countries.

Monir Farmanfarmaian came from precisely the kind of international milieu that I remember. Farmanfarmaian went to New York for art school in the 1940s, when she studied dance with Martha Graham. Later, she hung out at Cedar Tavern with Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Larry Rivers. (Rivers, she has recalled, “was always trying very hard to date me.”) She returned to Iran in 1957, shortly after attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the Guggenheim Museum.

So it’s especially appropriate that the Guggenheim is hosting her first solo show in a major New York museum. Back in Iran, Farmanfarmaian studied Islamic geometrical design and mirror mosaics, an ancient craft that was traditionally handed down from father to son. But she merged it with the modernist forms and styles she had learned in the West, even producing mirrored balls that evoke the Studio 54 hedonism of the late 1970s.

That’s when Farmanfarmaian returned to New York, this time to escape the Islamic Revolution. Her art collection—including pieces by Andy Warhol and Alexander Calder—was confiscated, along with everything else she owned. So there’s something bittersweet as well as beautiful in the asymmetric “geometric families” that are assembled here, which reminded me of Farmanfarmaian’s own fractured family.

She’s back in Iran now, and still making art at 91. In the intricate and multi-faceted mirrors of her work, we see reflections of a bold and brave career. And we also catch glimpses of hope for the future, and its infinite possibility—for Monir Farmanfarmaian, and for the many-sided nation that bequeathed her to all of us.

For more information and tickets, visit guggenheim.org.

Category: Exhibition
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue,
New York, NY