Mirrored sculptures have become an art-fair cliché, shamelessly deployed by even serious galleries to lure Instagrammers and generate foot traffic. But not everything shiny is mere selfie bait, as the sculptures of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian remind us.
The 90-year-old Iranian artist (who goes by Monir) has one impressive solo presentation at the Frieze New York booth of Dubai gallery The Third Line, and another, more sustained one at the Guggenheim through June 3. These displays highlight her mirror-tiled sculptures and wall reliefs, which are both fun-loving and cerebral; they give Minimalism a disco kick while bringing in complicated geometries from Islamic architecture and decoration.
The mirror sculptures bookend Monir’s long, international, multidisciplinary career, which has been divided between Tehran and New York and includes a 26-year period of exile that followed the 1979 revolution in Iran. They originated with her 1975 visit to Shah Cheragh in Shiraz, a mosque and mausoleum covered in dazzling metalwork and mosaics of mirror glass. (A fascinating detail: she made the trip with the Minimalist sculptor Robert Morris and the monochromes painter Marcia Hafif, who has her own excellent Frieze solo at Fergus McCaffrey’s booth.) The experience of Shah Charagh inspired a whole body of work; as she said in a recent interview with Ibraaz, “I decided to move these mirror pieces from the walls of the mosque into the everyday life of Iran. I wanted to bring these things into people's houses.”
While living in exile in New York, Monir focused on making drawings in felt-tip pen that tease out the polygonal motifs of the sculptures into allover grids. (A selection of these can also be seen at Frieze and at the Guggenheim.) But upon her return to Tehran in 2004 she started to work with mirrors again—with the help of some of the craftsmen she had collaborated with back in the ‘70s.
Some of the works at The Third Line also use other craft techniques such as reverse-glass painting, interspersing reflective areas with translucent, jewel-like zones of color. At the Guggenheim, meanwhile, a glittering display of the recent sculptures Monir calls “geometric families” looks both luxurious and forbiddingly mathematical. It’s apparent, in both exhibits, that this nonagenarian artist is making some of the best works of her career.