In: modern

Global/Local 1960–2015: Six Artists from Iran is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine arts museum. As the title suggests, this stunning exhibition brings together six modern and contemporary artists working with their local Persian traditions in Iran as well as internationally, broadening the discourse to current political and social situations. Spanning three generations, the Grey has assembled a critical, thought provoking, and visually breathtaking show that depicts the diverse artistic production stemming from a country whose art is not as accessible to audiences outside of its borders.

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A complex yet culturally rich narrative unfolds as we move through the galleries. The show begins with the pioneering modernists of the 1960s and 1970s, Parviz Tanavoli (b. 1937) and Faramarz Pilaram (1937-1983). It then moves to Chohreh Feyzdjou (1955-1996) working right after the turbulent Iran-Iraq War years (1980-88), and ends with the youngest artists Shiva Ahmadi (b. 1975), Shahpour Pouyan (b.1980), and Barbad Golshiri (b. 1982) working within the 2000s up until today.

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This show is exceptionally rich and compelling as it brings together a broad and genuine portrayal of Iranian culture based in ancient traditions and forms while simultaneously questioning bleaker themes of power, authority, identity, violence, and military aggression that have all been pertinent throughout the country’s history and as well as today. These themes and motifs are handled in such subtle and incredibly clever ways that the resulting affects are illuminating. Through diverse mediums such as painting, ceramics, metalwork, mixed media, photography, assemblage, watercolor, and video these artists manipulate their heritage and history to make intriguing new claims and connections.

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Much of the exhibition is heavy on artistic and curatorial installation that actively engages visitors as they maneuver through the space. The conjoined galleries of Feyzdjou and Golshiri show the dedication and precision in which the exhibit was planned out. Golshiri, who is interested in tombstones and cultures surrounding death, helped arrange the works within his own gallery in order to have it resemble a cemetery plot. Photographs of cemeteries are hung low with a few resting on the floor and leaning against the walls. A stone cenotaph is snuggly fit in a corner while three large rectangular marble slabs are arranged in the middle of the floor. As we walk through these works we arrive at an intimate gallery displaying Feyzdjou’s large-scale installations. 403 scrolls are hung in a grid pattern while rolls, wooden crates, and a large canvas strewn scaffolding resembling an Iranian bazaar display inhabit the rest of the space. These dark, grim objects have been made from reused materials and appropriated works from Feyzdjou’s early art school days. They speak to her quest for identity and represent cycles of destruction and reconstruction.

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My favorite artists within this exhibition are Ahmadi and Pouyan, whose works are ground in fine details and toying with the audience’s initial perceptions. Nothing is quite what it seems with these two. Both employ past traditions through their use of miniatures, most notably from the Shahnama (Book of Kings), an illuminated manuscript detailing various Persian epics. Ahmadi takes these narratives and recasts them into contemporary contexts. Her works are colorful, alluring, playful, and rendered in watercolor, giving them an ethereal softness. Her subject, however, is corruption. Faceless rulers sit upon bleeding thrones while monkeys and other circus animals present candy-shaped offerings, which are in fact bombs and grenades. Pipes, industrial and traditional Iranian architectural forms surround these mythic scenes creating an apocalyptic play land. Ahmadi loves “sugarcoating” images where they appear beautiful from afar but reveal darker narratives when we step closer. These works are as mesmerizing as they are grotesque. Rendered with masterful subtlety yet poignant critique, she is commenting on the military aggression that has been present within Iran since the 1979 revolution as a battle over the country’s natural resources and the civilian traumas faced at the hands of their own governments.

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Pouyan similarly subverts the meaning of the Shahnama epics by taking specific illustrated pages and stripping the scenes of any figurative elements. What we are left with is an eerily empty landscape void of the elite figures that would have been a part of the scene. These small-scale works are fascinating and leave us to ponder on the contexts of power and patronage, and how authority can dictate “what is left unseen” within society.

Another exquisite series from Pouyan is his “Projectiles.” These monumental hanging works invade the gallery space as missile-like structures. Inspired by medieval Persian armor he explores how technology has served power throughout history. These first appear as menacing weapons but upon closer inspection reveal Pouyan’s fine calligraphic ornament. They are sharp and suggest violence but are also aesthetically striking and in fact very beautiful.

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I have come back and seen this show multiple times and with each new visit I have discovered something new. You are set into a sort of trance as you move through the galleries, mesmerized by the ornately fine detailed works and the variety of mediums. The exhibition as a whole is a feast for the eyes as well as a deeply psychological portrayal of Iran’s past. The artists’ consistent referencing to history and Persian heritage allows us to begin to better understand the country’s complex present.

Beautiful and enlightening from all angles, I highly recommend making a visit to NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. Global/Local 1960–2015: Six Artists from Iran is on view until April 2, 2016.

Claimed by critics, professors, professionals and art snobs everywhere as a “once in a lifetime experience,” the Picasso Sculpture exhibition at the Modern Museum of Art stands up to this promise. It is Picasso as we’ve rarely ever seen him before…or dare I say, never seen him before. He is at his weirdest and most innovative (if he could get any weirder), revealing another dimension of his creative side that is lesser known to the general public and less studied at the academic level.

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Needless to say, being the art nerd that I am, I was immediately hooked.

This comprehensive exhibition tracks Picasso’s sculptural and three-dimensional progression from the beginning of the 20th century up until about ten years before his death in 1973. It gives us a taste of his diverse and endless talents, not only as a painter but as a sculptor, ceramicist, and metal worker. Is there anything he can’t do? While working in a plethora of mediums, he used a number of different materials: wood, metal, bronze, plaster, stone, cardboard, nails, steel, various types of clay, terracotta and found objects. Essentially, anything he used anything he could get his hands on and transformed it into a vision of the near-abstract or a vague familiarity. The Venus of Gas, a small figure made of iron, was brought to life when a simple burner and pipe from a gas stove caught Picasso’s eye and reminded him of the charming prehistoric Venus figurines. When looking at it, you can’t help but smile to yourself and think, “Only Picasso.”

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picasso_moma_7The show is organized as a chronological overview of Picasso’s different sculptural phases and as corresponding to where he was living, the political conditions at the time, and other artistic trends. The galleries are grouped according to themes: The Cubist Years, The Monument to Apollinaire, The Boisgeloup Sculpture Studio (with the various renditions of the well-known Head of Woman, where he worked almost entirely in plaster with Marie-Therese Walter as his muse), The War Years, Vallauris Ceramics and Assemblages, and the final phase of Sheet Metal Sculptures.

picasso_moma_4One of the things that stumped me was the first gallery. When you arrive at the fourth floor, the Sheet Metal sculptures (the final phase) initially greet you in their recognizable Picasso styled eccentricity. We have the basics: female figures with disfigured faces and angular bodies, Chair which looks more like a first grade paper cutting project than anything else, and vibrant colors that break any vision of naturalism. This is the Picasso we all know, in all of its strangeness it is familiar and helps ease us into the exhibit.

One has the feeling of confusion, amazement, intrigue upon entering each new gallery. And once you are finished, you just want to go back around again. For every rotation can reveal something new–another detail, another link, another surprise, another piece of evidence suggesting at Picasso’s relentless genius. (Dude grinds real hard). Once you’ve come full circle again, the first room becomes more clear and you can see how Picasso has gotten there. It’s like solving the ultimate modernist puzzle….but is it ever really solved?

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Ultimately, the show is incredibly fun. Be it a serious art historian or a casual fan, everyone was circling around the sculptures, brows furrowed and smiles cracked at the bizarre visions Picasso brought to life. For anyone who is familiar with some of his other works, we can see that he was literally making art all of the time (grind so hard, am I right?) and constantly experimenting. These sculptures help us understand how he achieved and envisioned his paintings.

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One of my personal favorites, Baboon and Young, is found in the second to last gallery. Picasso used his son’s toy cars to create bronze molds that he stacked on top of each other, wheel to wheel, to produce the animal’s playful head. (I’m sure his son was thrilled with this one.) The catch–it actually looks like a baboon. Honestly, who else would look at their son in the middle of playing cars and think, “Ah, a baboon head!” Again, only Picasso. It’s absolutely fabulous.

If this exhibit does anything, it shows us how much fun Picasso had tinkering away with form and perspective. He could take any ordinary or dumpy object and turn it into something completely new. I can’t wait to go again for round two.

Picasso Sculpture is on display at MoMA until February 7th, 2016.