By Michael FitzGerald
“Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights From NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection” is a tale of two intertwined histories. Each is remarkable.
One is the life of Abby Weed Grey (1902-1983), who during the 1960s and early ’70s acquired about 1,000 works by artists of the Middle East and Asia at a time when few Americans were interested in the cultures of these regions. Moreover, she seemed completely unprepared to make this commitment. Having grown up in St. Paul, Minn., and married a much older Army officer at age 27, she spent several decades rotating among bases in the U.S. When he died in 1956, she found herself bereft and unexpectedly wealthy from his investments in railroad stocks and bonds. In 1960, she joined 13 other women on a world tour that inspired her devotion to “one world through art.” During the next 13 years, she took eight trips to Iran, and four each to Turkey and India. A deeply religious person, Grey searched for spiritual satisfaction through art, and she chose some of the most challenging cultures to demonstrate their potential to communicate universal meanings.