Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (1922-2019) was one of Irans most celebrated and revered visual artists, known internationally for her geometric mirror sculptures that combined the mathematical order and beauty of ancient Persian architectural motifs with the forms and patterns of hard-edged, postwar abstraction. The High Museum of Art
presents the first posthumous exhibition of her work in an American museum with Monir Farmanfarmaian: A Mirror Garden (Nov. 18, 2022-April 9, 2023).
The exhibition was inspired by the Highs 2019 acquisition of Farmanfarmaians 2012 cut-mirror sculpture Untitled (Muqarnas) (2012) and her 2014 drawing Untitled (Circles and Squares). Muqarnas was acquired with funds from the Farideh & Al Azadi Foundation as part of a significant gift to The Woodruff Arts Center, of which the High is an arts partner, to purchase and present work by Persian artists.
Untitled (Murqarnas) is among the most popular works on view in our collection galleries. We are delighted to present more of Farmanfarmaians work, and in doing so, provide a broader context for understanding her creative process and practice, said Rand Suffolk, the Highs Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director.
The Highs Wieland Family curator of modern and contemporary art, Michael Rooks, added, We are honored to recognize Farmanfarmaians importance as a singular creative force through this exhibition. For generations of artists in post-revolution Iran, Farmanfarmaian represents the paradigm of an independent artist whose work was unfettered by the histories and customs of its context but existed in conversation with contemporary art practices across cultures. At the same time, her work reflects a deep understanding of and reverence for Iranian culture.
The exhibitions title is borrowed from Farmanfarmaians 2007 memoir, co-authored by Zara Houshmand, which evokes the visual splendor of the artists mirror-mosaic sculptures. The more than 60 works on view in the exhibition include a selection of sculptures, drawings, textiles and collages spanning four decades, from 1974 to 2018. Early drawings explore the infinitude of geometrical space and the countless possible variations of geometric pattern, while her series Nomadic Tents, from the late 1970s, employs different combinations of form based on the triangle. Farmanfarmaians Nomadic Tents refer to the nomadic tribes of Iran whom the artist studied in her youth and foreshadow the artists diasporic relationship to her homeland following the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
Additionally, the exhibition features a selection of rarely seen Heartache Boxes, small-scale assemblages that comprise a poetic visual memoir of the artists life at midcareer. Begun after the death of her husband in 1991, the elaborately crafted Heartache Boxes are arranged with objects related to longing, memory and dreams. They include prints, photographs and a variety of objects that refer to the artists life, times and career, including miniature images of her early work and references to her lost life in Tehran before the Iranian Revolution.
The exhibition also includes a range of the artists mirror-mosaic sculptures across the arc of her career. Farmanfarmaians best known sculptures unite fragments of mirror and reverse-glass painting in resplendent mosaic designs, employing a 17th-century Persian technique called aineh-kari. Some of her earliest mosaics were made in the shape of mirrored balls, such as Mirror Ball (1974), which demonstrates the endless possibilities for mosaic patterning on a sphere. Farmanfarmaians mirrored balls prefigure the artists later sculpture, notable for its intricate patterning and complex form.
Among late works in the exhibition, Untitled (Muqarnas), from the Highs collection, refers to the honeycombed ceilings in Persian shrines and palaces, while its wing-like forms recall the wings of the Faravahar, an ancient Zoroastrian symbol tied to Persian cultural identity. Another late work, titled Gabbeh (2009), features a triangular pattern formed by overlapping hexagons that serves as the foundation for an irregular combination of colorful polygons, arcs and diagonals. Its title refers to a type of Persian carpet produced by nomadic weavers. The exhibition also includes a selection of silk carpets designed by Farmanfarmaian.
Between 2010 and 2014, Farmanfarmian produced a series of works she called familiesfive groupings of eight sculptures based on the eight regular polygons in Euclidian geometry. The exhibition features all eight geometric shapes drawn from multiple families. The variation of form, pattern and structure in the families demonstrate the advanced complexity of the artists concept while more broadly exhibiting the fluidity of geometry and the fundamental mathematical principles at the center of Farmanfarmaians practice.
The exhibition is presented on the Second Level of the Highs Anne Cox Chambers Wing.
Born in Qazvin, Iran, in 1922, Farmanfarmaian studied at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Tehran in the early 1940s, later traveling to New York to further her education. There she attended Parsons School of Design, Cornell University and the Arts Student League. In New York, Farmanfarmaian absorbed the development of geometric abstraction and observed its burgeoning permutations in contemporary art. Her community of artist friends and colleagues there included Milton Avery, Alexander Calder, Joan Mitchell, Louise Nevelson, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and others. These experiences, combined with her deep knowledge of Iranian arts and crafts, resulted in her personal vision for a truly global modernity.
Following her marriage in 1957, the artist returned to Iran, where she began to study, collect and preserve the traditional decorative arts of her home country. However, the 1979 Islamic Revolution led Farmanfarmaian and her family back to New York, where they would remain in exile for the next 26 years. In 2004, Farmanfarmaian moved back to Tehran, reestablishing a studio where she worked with some of the same craftspeople she had known in the 1970s.
The artist first received significant attention in 1958, when she was awarded a gold medal for her work in the Iranian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, leading to exhibitions in Tehran, Paris and New York. Since then, her work has been shown at major institutions and in exhibitions worldwide. Most recently, major retrospective exhibitions of her work have been presented at the Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE; the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Fundação de Serralves, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto.
Farmanfarmaians work is included in important public collections around the world including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Museum of Modern Art, Tehran; Tate Modern, London; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
She is the subject of the monograph Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Cosmic Geometry, edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist, and is the co-author of her autobiography, A Mirror Garden (Knopf, 2007). In December 2017, the Monir Museum opened in Tehran, the only museum dedicated to a single female artist in Iran.