Monir Farmanfarmaian Talks Intimately With Frank Stella About Her Guggenheim Museum Show

In 1952, the Iranian artist attended Woodstock.


In her five-decade career as an artist, the work of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian has graced the walls of some of the most coveted institutions in New York and Tehran.

Travelling between the two cities since the early 1940s, Farmanfarmaian has established herself as an artist at the vanguard of contemporary Iranian art. Upon graduating from Parsons School of Design in 1949, she made a striking entrance on the New York art scene and hobnobbed with such artists as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and, later, Frank Stella.

Farmanfarmaian’s mirrored mosaic sculptures, three-dimensional panels, and reverse-glass paintings, speak to an Iranian heritage predicated on the geometry of Islamic architecture. Her hexagonal, triangular, and spherical creations give voice to an artistic language inspired by ancient sites and traditional ornamentation. They are derivatives of Persian indigenous cultures and crafts, like those found in the old capital city of Abadan, Iran.

The artist’s mirrored pieces whimsically wink at the three-way dissonance between formal artistic Islamic tradition, 1970s club culture in New York, and a 1952 visit to Woodstock, New York. Reciprocally, Farmanfarmaian’s collection of spheres titled Mirror Balls (1974) finds its roots in Sufi cosmology—she is an astronomy buff—and explores the relation between arcane symbols and these shapes.

Recalling a 1960s visit to Tehran, Frank Stella describes the city’s artistic landscape, likening it with Farmanfarmaian’s work: “The artwork is about the light brought into the interior, the light of the country and the light of the life that people live in it […] That’s also what happens with Monir—the light shines through.”

In this inaugural exhibit at the Guggenheim (the first U.S. museum exhibition of mirror works by the artist), her graphic compositions and mosaics give a sense of the cultural legacy of Iran with a modern, silver-glinted twist.

The artist recently sat down with Frank Stella at the Guggenheim Museum to discuss her creative eccentricities, her beginnings at Cornell University, and a quirky meeting she and Stella had in 1974.

“Monir Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings 1974–2014” is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, from March 13–June 3.

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