Internationally celebrated for her exploration of geometric forms to connect the mathematical patterns of Iranian tradition with the minimalist shapes of Western Abstraction, Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian mystically bridges past and present with her captivating and dazzling works. Known for two artistic techniques where she combines traditional mirror mosaics, made of fragments of mirror and glass set in intricate designs in plaster, with reverse-glass painting which both visuals and traditions reflect off of one another in a hypnotic culmination that creates a space-less portal to infinity. The present work, entitled Pentagon is an enchanting example of the artist’s most definitive series of mirror mosaic and reverse-glass painting works that explore the infinite possibilities of geometry.
Born in Qazvin in 1924 to a liberal family, and settling in New York in the 1940s where she enrolled in art school and became friends with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, John Cage and Joan Mitchel, it wasn’t until Farmanfarmaian moved back to her native homeland in 1957 that she would rediscover traditional handicrafts and folk art leading to the development of her hypnotic and alluring mirror mosaic works. In fact it was a definitive moment when she entered the 14th century Shah Cheragh shrine adorned with endless mirror mosaics in 1966 that left a lasting impression on her and influenced her artistic production for the rest of her life.
In the 1970s, Farmanfarmaian’s distinctive aesthetic language was rooted in a strong passion for her Iranian heritage. Although they reference traditional art, her works are yet undeniably modern and avant-gardist. Fascinated by the Sufi cosmology and the symbolism in geometry and soon began to incorporate various shapes and colours - circles, triangles, squares, polygons - in her works, each of these shapes a metaphor for metaphysical values and ideas. In fact she mentions ‘When I discovered the mirror mosaics, I realized that nothing is done spontaneously; it is all a calculation of geometry and design…If you divide a circle at three points, it will be a triangle. In Islamic design, the triangle is the intelligent human being. If you divide the circle at four points, it will be a square, and it can be North, South, West, and East. The five sides of the pentagon are the five senses. The six sides of the hexagon are the directions: forward, backward, right, left, up, down. The hexagon also reflects the six virtues: generosity, self-discipline, patience, determination, insight, and compassion.’ (The artist quoted in, “Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Convertibles and Polygons”, in The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, accessed online).
Executed in 2011 and exhibited at the Sharjah Biennale in 2013, it becomes clear that Pentagon is an intentional exploration of an abstract representation of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch, immersing the viewer in a kaleidoscopic experience combining a sea of shimmering mirrors that are interspersed with jewel-like sapphire blue patterns that constantly refract and reflect revealing a kinetic facet allowing the viewer to become infinitely part of the work itself. Although rigid in its geometric state, the artist’s distinctive approach to geometric abstraction and her fascination with the concepts of repetition and progression - a technique that she has perfected in her 92 years - making Pentagon a seminal example from one of the most admired and established Iranian artists of today.
Christie’s is honoured to be offering Pentagon, to benefit The Arjan Ala Charitable Trust (AACT) which in turn is dedicated to supporting the Iranian Comprehensive Haemophilia Care Centre (ICHCC), as a cause that is close to the artist’s heart. The centre, which opened in 2001, is designed both for the treatment and research of haemophilia, a mutation of the blood cells which makes it difficult for the body to clot blood, and other blood related diseases known for their devastating effects. With a tragic number of untreated and undiagnosed blood related diseases in Iran, the ICHCC has sought to provide a technically advanced and specialised clinic through which investigations and treatments can be carried out. The clinic also prides itself in being an academic institution by which it supports the study and research for new medical reports and discoveries.
Haemophilia and similar blood related disorders have had devastating effects in Iran, burdening not only the patients but also their families. With the lack of proper care, these diseases are often genetic and if left untreated can be passed on from women to children. In an attempt to treat patients with the disease over the past decades, it became apparent that blood donations, transfusions and other facilities were poorly regulated, unsanitary and highly compromised. Bringing to light a multitude of resultant problems, the ICHCC aims to address these issues by providing sanitary conditions and safe facilities in order to protect its patients.