Highlighting the creativity of artists who drew on their cultural heritage to redefine Iran’s visual identity during the decades leading up to the 1979 Revolution, Modern Iranian Art: Selections from the Abby Weed Grey Collection presents key works of Iranian modernism from the 1960s and ’70s. Housed here, these paintings, sculptures, drawings, and jewelry are part of the Abby Weed Grey Collection of Modern Asian and Middle Eastern Art, and comprise the largest public holding of Iranian modern art outside Iran.
Truly ahead of her time, Abby Grey amassed nearly 700 pieces—representing countries as diverse as India, Turkey, Japan, Nepal, and Israel, as well as Iran—on numerous trips to Asia and the Middle East to promote cross-cultural exchange. In each country, she sought out artists who were in tune with international artistic developments. In Iran, she gravitated toward those who were grappling with how to reconcile their modern sensibilities with their Persian roots. Inspired by classical Persian poetry, calligraphy, and miniature painting, they were also appropriating images from Shiism, the dominant form of Islam in Iran, to convey abstract concepts. Many of them were active in the Saqqakhaneh School of the 1960s, which was named for the traditional public shrine-fountains where water is stored. On view here are major early works by some of the best-known modern Iranian artists, including Siah Armajani, Kamran Diba, Faramarz Pilaram, Parviz Tanavoli, and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, among others.
In 1974, Mrs. Grey established the Grey Art Gallery as a permanent home for her collection, both to complement New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies and to further her cross-cultural approach in a global academic setting. In 2002 the gallery presented the exhibition Between Word and Image: Modern Iranian Visual Culture and an accompanying book. Subsequently the Grey produced a comprehensive illustrated catalogue of its Iranian holdings on its website, along with essays and an annotated bibliography. Furthermore a number of important works from the Abby Weed Grey collection are included in Iran Modern, a major survey that is on view at Asia Society in New York until January 5, 2014. A testament to Mrs. Grey’s vision, the collection at NYU continues to inspire viewers, and to spark new scholarship and insights.