Melding Islam with the Abstract

One of the most influential Middle Eastern artists of her generation, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (pronounced far-mahn-far-MY-ahn) spent six decades articulating her singular vision through mirrored mosaics, reverse-glass painting, and works on paper that recall both Persian interior decoration and the abstraction of 20th century contemporary art. Her artistic evolution was shaped by geopolitical upheavals, ancient Persian traditions, and the New York avant-garde art scene of the 1950s.

The artistic work of Farmanfarmaian’s creative development is one of the great stories of contemporary art. Her art ranged from decorative floral painting to harsh, evocative collages. But her most compelling works were multi-sided wooden forms that were covered in thousands of small, precisely-cut mirrors. She made her first such work in 1969, and soon was producing hexagon-shaped forms adorned with mirrors that splintered viewers’ reflections into eerie multiples. New Yorkers discovered her accomplishment in a 50-year retrospective that toured the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2015 — seven decades after she first arrived in the city.

Early Years and Influences

Monir Shahroudy was born on Jan. 13, 1923, in Qazvin, a city in northwest Iran. Her mother, Fatemeh, was an Ottoman aristocrat. Her father, Bagher, who founded Qazvin’s first school for girls, was elected to Parliament in 1932 and moved the family to Tehran.
In her teens, Monir enrolled at the University of Tehran, where she studied fine arts. Her dreams of moving to Paris were delayed due to World War II. So, in 1944 she sailed first to India and then, on to Los Angeles on an American warship, no less. From there she traveled cross-country to New York.
After arriving in New York, Ms. Farmanfarmaian studied fashion illustration at the Parsons School of Design, worked on her English, danced with Martha Graham’s company and soon fell in with luminary artists that included Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

In 1950, she married Manoucher Yektai, a fellow Iranian artist, and had a daughter, Nima, with him. The couple divorced in 1953, which forced Ms. Farmanfarmaian to take a day job at the department store Bonwit Teller, which, in retrospect, was a most fortuitous turn of events. Among her colleagues there was a young Andy Warhol, with whom she collaborated on the store’s newspaper advertisements. They remained friendly for decades. When Warhol died in 1986, a sculpture of hers ¬¬– a mirror-flecked ball she had given to him – was sitting on a table in his living room.

In 1957, she married Abol Bashar Farmanfarmaian, a lawyer and descendant of one of Iran’s most powerful families that ruled in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Later that year the couple returned to Tehran, which was then one of the most vibrant art capitals of the Middle East, where Persian artists of the 1960s were drawing on local and international influences with the goal of increasing the influence of secular modern art.

During her time in Iran she traveled extensively, visiting the ruins of Iran’s previous empires and collecting local illustrative artworks known as coffeehouse paintings. It was during this period that Monir became fascinated with the hexagon, the multi-sided shape that came to define her future work. Her mirrored works drew also on the architecture of Iranian palaces, whose walls were often decorated with mosaics made of thousands of shards of mirrors cut into geometric shapes.

Heartache Boxes

Ms. Farmanfarmaian and her husband were in the United States when the Iranian revolution began in 1978. As a result of this upheaval, the couple lost most of their belongings, and they spent several years bouncing among apartments until finally finding a Fifth Avenue penthouse. While in exile, she created her lesser-known “Heartache” boxes; sculptural containers made of mixed collages and arrangements of photographs, prints and various objects. The intimate small-scale sculptures were primarily made after the loss of her husband in the late 1990s, and draw inspiration from all the places, faces and paraphernalia that at some stage in her history were associated with a happy family life.

Worldwide Accolades

Monir first received significant attention in 1958, when she was awarded a gold medal for her work in the Iranian Pavilion, leading to exhibitions in Tehran, Paris and New York. More recently, her artwork has been exhibited at major institutions and exhibitions worldwide. She is the subject of a substantial monograph, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Cosmic Geometry, edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist; the co-author of an autobiography, A Mirror Garden (Knopf, 2007); and the focus of a recently completed documentary film. Monir’s work has been collected by institutions around the world, including: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; and Tate Modern, London, U.K.
In December 2017, the Monir Museum, the first museum in Iran dedicated to a single female artist, opened in Tehran. Committed to the exhibition, preservation, and study of the artist’s work, the Monir Museum is home to over fifty pieces from the artist’s personal collection. Monir was known in international art circles as a visionary, charismatic, and uncompromising artist. She passed away peacefully in her home in April 2019, aged 96.
The mirrored surfaces of her art, and the multiple perspectives and reflections they afford, stand to some degree as a symbol of Ms. Farmanfarmaian’s rich life. In 2015, on the occasion of her Guggenheim show, she told a reporter for The New Yorker Magazine:
“Each of these forms has thousands and thousands of ways to see it. Mirrors are a reflection of anything and everything. You become part of that mirror. It is communication — the mirror and yourself, the piece of art and yourself.”

Add the Works of Monir to Your Own Collection

Keep an eye out for live auctions in Dania Beach for the chance to add a work from this internationally acclaimed artist to your collection. There are opportunities to participate in auctions via phone or online from anywhere in the world. Many people want to acquire work from inspiring artists such as Monir Farmanfarmaian and spend considerable sums to do so. Keeping an eye on Dania Beach auctions can help one discover pieces by this important artist.

Selling the Works of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

Do you have works by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian that you are interested in selling, appraising or cosigning? Call Joshua Kodner today, and ensure you receive the true value of your property.