Rafa Al Nasiri (Iraqi, 1940-2013)
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Parviz Tanavoli (Iranian, b. 1937)


Parviz Tanavoli (Iranian, b. 1937)
indistinctly incised with artist's name and date in Farsi (centre)
copper and brass on wooden base
70 7/8 x 15¾ x 4 1/8in. (180 x 40 x 10.5cm.);
base: 1 1/8 x 25¼ x 5 7/8in. (3 x 64 x 15cm.)
Executed in Minneapolis in 1962, this work is unique
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner circa early 1970s.
Special notice

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Lot Essay

Renowned for his monumental sculptures, Parviz Tanavoli is undeniably one of Iran's greatest living artists and is often referred to as the father of Modern Iranian sculpture. The legendary sculptor is most celebrated for his extraordinary artistic ability to seamlessly infuse each of his one-of-a-kind sculptures with elements from Iranian history as well as 20th century Modernism. Christie's is delighted to offer the present lot, an exceptional sculpture from the artist's oeuvre executed in 1962 while the artist was living in Minneapolis following Abby Weed Grey's initiative to offer him a residency at the School of Fine Art.

The work has been in the present owner's private collection since the early 1970s. Tanavoli's sculptures are sheer poetry often executed in bronze, the artist's favoured medium or in copper and brass as in the present work. This sculpture is one of the artist's most outstanding works for it embodies every technique, every artistic experiment and discovery made by Tanavoli during his celebrated career. A close assessment of the sculpture reveals the story of Tanavoli's personal and creative journey.
The first influence that one perceives upon closer inspection of the sculpture is that of the Saqqakhaneh school, an association of Iranian artists who drew directly from the traditional art forms of Iran as the raw material for their works. In the view of the members of the school, elements from their cultural roots had to be linked to modern styles and fused to create a distinctly national, artistic expression. As a founding member of the Saqqakhaneh school along with the Modernist painter Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Tanavoli's works incorporated many of the core artistic concepts that were highly regarded by members of the school. In this sculpture, Tanavoli has included icons and signs from the pictorial heritage of Iran and has created a new artistic language on the surface of the sculpture.

Iranian art critic and journalist, Karim Emami was the first to use the term 'saqqakhaneh' to describe the works of Iranian artists whose Modern paintings and sculptures fused pictorial or structural elements from Shi'ite art. The term gradually came to be applied to the Modernist works by Iranian artists that incorporated traditional or decorative elements from Iran's historic, religious and artistic glorious past. An examination of the decorative sculpture by Tanavoli shows many talismanic seals, the most striking depiction of which is that of the eye and Hand of Fatima, which form the head of the sculpture. Coming from Iran's Islamic heritage, these symbols endow the sculpture with a spiritual and otherworldly existence, much like a literal saqqakhaneh, which is not only a public water fountain but also serves as a votive structure. Small locks and pieces of cloth are often fastened to the lattice grillwork in the exterior part of some saqqakhaneh by devotees. Sometimes, small objects with religious significance are placed inside little compartments of the public fountain. The dual nature of the saqqakhaneh as both a water fountain and a votive structure is underscored by Tanavoli's sculpture as it is at once a beautiful decorative object and a mystical talisman. Thus the pictographic elements of Tanavoli's sculpture depict a religious and social heritage of a culturally rich civilisation.

Other than depicting religious motifs, the symbols carved in relief on the sculpture also portray the evolution of language from the ancient Cuneiform script of the Sumerian age to modern day written Farsi. Depictions of simple shapes such as the heart and geometric forms including triangles, lines and circles represent a pictorial language similar to the old written language of the great ancient Persian civilisation. The pictographic language has been paired with modern, written language, the ultimate representation of which - in the centre of the structure - is the written name of God: Allah. The use of cultural and religious symbols and the depiction of the evolution of language endow Tanavoli's extraordinary sculpture with a transcendental and otherworldly quality. However, detailed knowledge on the artist's influences and practices is by no means essential to an appreciation of the work itself, which is rich in information but free of any indoctrination. Tanavoli's idiom is universal and the present lot which was acquired in the early 1970s from the artist himself is undeniably one of the most striking works by Tanavoli to ever come to auction.

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