Savannah

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Lineages

In a darkened hallway between two galleries in the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art are several brightly lit works by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. In this solo exhibition, titled Lineages, a series of Farmanfarmaian’s elaborate mirror sculptures are installed across from a number of her intricate geometric drawings, revealing an astute conflation of Western abstraction and traditional folk art of her native Iran.[1] While her examinations of geometric forms undoubtedly refer to elements of Islamic and Sufi design, the works go deeper to present an understanding of the universal building blocks of nature.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Fourth Family: Hexagon, 2013; Installation view, mirror, oil painting behind glass and PVC; 48 x 48 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art. Photo: John McKinnon.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Fourth Family: Hexagon, 2013; mirror, oil painting behind glass and PVC; 48 x 48 x 12 in.; installation view. Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art. Photo: John McKinnon.

The six ornate sculptures included in Lineages are pieced together from small slivers of cut mirror that Farmanfarmaian adheres to a complex geometric frame and pattern. The result is a three-dimensional relief that hangs on the wall—one that shimmers vigorously as it is lit and viewed from multiple angles. Farmanfarmaian has also carefully painted each line where different facets of the mirror meet. In this way, she further emphasizes her focus on geometric shapes and the edges that define them. The patterns in each form are quite dense, and they quickly recall the complex forms of muqarnas, which are the intricately decorated undersides of domes in Islamic architecture.

Because the sculptures are made out of reflective material, an interesting phenomenon arises as viewers engage them. Instead of possessing the gravitational effect of monuments, Farmanfarmaian’s sculptures expel everything, light and interpretation included. Due to this reflectivity, semblances of other gallery visitors and features momentarily appear and vanish; the sculptures eschew a static appearance and become ever-changing interpretations of the world around us. Furthermore, they take on several qualities of Op Art, as they similarly employ systems and lines to seemingly warp their own version of space. Despite the hard-edged geometric properties of the sculptures, stunningly expressive reflections are created on the gallery’s ceiling and floor, resembling the vivid, harried lines of Cy Twombly or Joan Mitchell.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Lineages, 2017; installation view. Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art. Photo: John McKinnon.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Lineages, 2017; installation view. Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art. Photo: John McKinnon.

While most of the mirror sculptures appear circular, they are made mostly of identical, spiraling forms. Each one has a varying amount of negative space, depending on how tightly nested the spiral arms are. Fourth Family: Hexagon (2013) is made of six chevron-like elements, each containing hundreds of slivers of tiny mirrors. Between specific groupings of the fragments, Farmanfarmaian has painted the backing support. These painted elements allow the work to be appreciated for each geometric element within its construction, as well as for the sum of its parts, as the aesthetically enchanting object it is. Like kinetic works, Farmanfarmaian’s mirror sculptures become activated as the viewer moves around them—they constantly glitter and shift in appearance, and even color, as one passes by.

With a firm rootedness in Islamic architecture and folk art, Farmanfarmaian’s mirror sculptures also connect to Western minimalism. The clean lines and mirrored surfaces erase evidence of the artist’s hand, and when the mirror sculptures are installed together—especially linearly, as in this installation—their modularity and repetitive aspects stand out. Their reflectivity also helps define the gallery around them, making the viewer aware of their position within it.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Lineages, 2017; installation view. Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art. Photo: John McKinnon.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Lineages, 2017; installation view. Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art. Photo: John McKinnon.

On the other side of the gallery are several drawings by Farmanfarmaian, and these works continue to show the artist’s careful consideration of geometric forms. Most are logical systems of lines and colors—astonishingly complex compositions that, upon closer inspection, reveal their makeup of basic shapes. Untitled (D14) consists solely of forms created by overlapping circles in a system that evokes symmetry and order. A drawing like this one evokes the atomistic quality of nature, wherein complex systems are built solely out of basic, repeating forms. Other drawings take on an exploratory approach. Untitled (D3), for instance, takes the appearance of an algorithmic drawing. A central line weaves throughout a grid that contains various elements within each cell. Such a drawing departs from the logic of other nearby works, yet its playfulness teases out the liveliness of the opposing mirror sculptures, whose compositions are reflected in the movement of light splaying along the gallery floor.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Fourth Family: Decagon, 2013; Installation view, mirror, oil painting behind glass and PVC; 48 x 48 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art. Photo: John McKinnon.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Fourth Family: Decagon, 2013; mirror, oil painting behind glass and PVC; 48 x 48 x 12 in.; installation view Courtesy of the SCAD Museum of Art. Photo: John McKinnon.

Additional synergy exists between the drawings and the sculptures, as the two-dimensional drawings aid viewers in recognizing the formal qualities of the mirror sculptures, which might otherwise be overwhelmed by their eye-catching drama. Rather than simply being dazzled by the sculptures’ intricacy and reflectivity, viewers become more aware of the composition of geometric forms in the sculptures, due to their proximity to the drawings. The show’s curators have smartly included the drawings for this purpose, and in doing so allow the sculptures to be read simultaneously as artistic explorations of the interplay between forms and light and as vernacular craft. With such an installation, it’s clear that the works allude to the complex geometries of Islamic muqarnas and designs in Sufi mysticism, but they remain very much grounded in the lineage of modern abstraction.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Lineages is on view through August 6, 2017.

[1] Born in Iran in 1924, Farmanfarmaian lived in New York City in the 1940s and ’50s, during which time she befriended several abstract painters, including Frank Stella, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. Their influences certainly informed her work, but she has consistently avoided the expressiveness of such painting in favor of complex arrangements of basic geometric forms. Over her life, she has lived in Tehran intermittently, and consistently since 2004, during which time she created the work for Lineages.

Share