Christie's is proud to present a captivating and enchanting Mirror Ball by the acclaimed artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, from the Private Collection of Edwin P. Kennedy Jr. At the forefront of Modern and Contemporary Iranian art and undeniably a pioneer, the prolific and interdisciplinary artist Monir, whose career spans over 70 years, is internationally celebrated for her exploration of the traditional art of mirror-mosaic and reverse-glass painting.
Undeniably pop, her works are a reflection of her own identity. 'That beautiful Persian girl' as John Cage would call her, Monir is known and loved by many for her honesty, her life of glamour and hard work. When in New York, Monir befriended artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Joan Mitchell. She also met Andy Warhol, then a young commercial illustrator in charge of the store's window displays, and acquired from him a few of his coloured illustrations of shoes in exchange of a mirror ball that he famously kept on his desk in his Maddison Avenue home, until his death. The present Mirror Ball from Edwin P. Kennedy Jr.'s private collection is as mesmerising and captivating as the one with which Warhol lived for years.
Monir's life and career are to be admired, both linked to her personal story as an Iranian who lived abroad for many years, but whose attachment to her homeland Iran has never faded throughout the years. In 1945, via Mumbai, Monir boarded an American battleship to California and travelled to New York, where she settled for more than a decade. There she attended art classes at Cornell University and at Parsons School of Design to study fashion illustration. Her evenings as an art student would be spent at the Tenth Street Club, mingling with contemporary Western artists. In 1957, Monir moved back to her homeland Iran and exhibited at the 29th Venice Biennale and won the gold medal in 1958. She travelled around the country to rediscover traditional handicrafts and folk art, coffeehouse paintings that she would collect, painted ceilings and panels of the Safavid era. Most importantly in 1966 in Shiraz, she was awed by the 14th century Shah Cheragh shrine adorned with endless mirror mosaics, a discovery that left a lasting impression on her.
Resonating traditional art, Monir's influences ranged from Islamic geometric and architectural patterns to science and philosophy. She was fascinated by the Sufi cosmology and the symbolism in geometry. She skillfully combined mirror, reverse-glass painting and her works, refracting and reflecting light, revealed a kinetic facet. Monir's famous and sought-after Mirror Balls are a cluster of sparkling, faceted balls that enhance the kaleidoscopic experience and recall the artist's disco nights in prestigious parties. Monir's disco balls are in line with the 1970s pop and glitz culture that she experimented in New York City.
The present work carries history of the arts and popular culture, but also reflects on the cultural exchange that was taking place before the Islamic revolution between Iran and the United States. In the 1970s, Monir Farmanfarmaian held two solo exhibitions, respectively in 1973 and 1976 and was part of a group exhibition in 1975 at the Iran-America Society. On one of these occasions, she gifted this Mirror Ball to Edwin Kennedy as recognition of their friendship and professional collaboration. Kennedy, a distinguished American Foreign Affairs officer, was assigned to Tehran as Director of the Iran- America Society, which he led from 1974 to 1977. He had begun his career in post-war Europe in military intelligence and after 1961, had joined the Foreign Service serving in many posts as cultural attaché and in other positions.
Founded in the 1950s in Tehran aiming to promote understanding and exchange between Iranians and Americans, the Iran-America Society encouraged a great number of initiatives and also allowed many young Iranians to come, live and study in the United States. Its headquarters in Tehran were a gathering place for artists and intellectuals who were drawn by the liberalising influence of American culture on Iran, in the 1960s and 1970s. The Iran-America Society also held acclaimed exhibitions for Iranian artists both in Iran and in the US and Monir Farmanfarmaian was very active with the Society, both as a collector of American and Iranian art and as an artist herself. It is on the occasion of one of her exhibitions that she gifted the Mirror Ball to Edwin P. Kennedy Jr. and ever since, Kennedy lived with this enchanting work of art that became a symbol of his ties to the Iranian culture and to the glorious days of friendship between the two nations. Monir was granted the Jameel Prize in 2009; in 2013, the acclaimed exhibition Iran Modern at Asia Society in New York featured her works and the same year, another exhibition was held at WIELS in Brussels. A highly anticipated retrospective dedicated to the survey of geometric mirror works and drawings by Monir Farmanfarmaian was held at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto from October 2014 to January 2015 with an important monograph published on the occasion. This historical retrospective exhibition travelled to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York later in 2015 and became one the museum's most popular exhibitions. Monir's works are featured in several public collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum and Tate Modern in London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Grey Art Gallery in New York, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi.