Monir Farmanfarmaian, born 1924 in Qazvin, Iran, is a contemporary Iranian artist who lives in Tehran and a collector of traditional folk art. Her artistic practice weds the geometric patterns and cut-glass mosaic techniques of her Iranian heritage with the rhythms of modern Western geometric abstraction.
Education and career
Farmanfarmaian studied at the University of Tehran at the Faculty of Fine Art (1944-1946), before traveling to the United States when World War II derailed plans to study art in Paris, France. In New York she studied at Parsons The New School for Design (1946–1949) and Cornell University (1948–1951).
She worked as a fashion illustrator, and was absorbed into the city’s avant garde art scene, becoming friends with artists and contemporaries Louise Nevelson, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Joan Mitchell. She painted, collaborated with Andy Warhol on illustrations for the now defunct Bonwit Teller department store, and, under the tutelage of Milton Avery, developed her talent for making monotype prints — some of which were presented at the Iran Pavilion during the 1958 Venice Biennale.
In 1957, back in Iran, she began experimenting with adapting and combining techniques of reverse-glass painting, mirror mosaics, and the Sufi symbolism of classical Islamic geometrical design with a modern abstract expressionism and minimalism. “Ayeneh Kari” is the traditional art of cutting mirrors into small pieces and slivers, placing them in decorative shapes over plaster. Farmanfarmaian was the first contemporary artist to reinvent the traditional art in a contemporary way.
She further developed her artistic sensibility through encounters with traditional craftsmanship, indigenous art forms such as Turkoman jewelry and clothing, coffee house paintings (a popular form of Iranian narrative paintings), and the technique of reverse-glass painting.
From 1979 to 2004, during her exile in New York, she focused on drawing, collage, commissions, and carpet and textile design. In 2004, when she finally returned to Iran, she reestablished her studio there and resumed working with some of the same craftsmen she had collaborated with in the 1970s.
Farmanfarmaian’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Grey Art Gallery, New York; Galerie Denise Rene, Paris and New York; Leighton House Museum, London; Haus der Kunst, Munich; The Third Line, Dubai; Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern; Lower Belvedere, Vienna; and Ota Fine Art, Tokyo.
She participated in the 29th Bienal de São Paulo (2010); the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2009); and the Venice Biennale (1958, 1966 and 2009). In 1958 she received the Venice Biennale, Iranian Pavilion (gold medal) (solo).
Suzanne Cotter curated Farmanfarmaian’s work for her first large museum retrospective titled ‘Infinite Possibility: Mirror Works and Drawings’ which was on display at the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal (2014-2015) and then the exhibition travelled to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City (2015). This was her first large US museum exhibition.