“Material Culture,” curated by Roya Khadjavi, on view from April 4 until April 18, 2019 at Elga Wimmer Gallery PCC in New York City’s Chelsea District features five Iranian-born artists now working in the United States: Aida Izadpanah; Dana Nehdaran; Maryam Khosrovani; Mayam Palizgir and Massy Nasser Ghandi. Providing a window into the history of Persian art forms, they appropriate the language of Persian miniatures and Chinese landscape painting and spatial orientation. They contemporize traditions of Persian art in new and creative ways while retaining and respecting age-old Persian forms.
My walk around the gallery began with Massy Nasser Ghandi’s dark landscape paintings on porcelain, “An Interpretation of the Horizon.” Variegated colors, browns and blacks in images of land visible at night and white waves full of air holes laying on a blue-grey sea composed realistic but expressive land and seascapes drawn from her memory. The scenes on porcelain were strong images on a delicate, breakable material, emphasizing threatened land and water.
In Dana Nehdaran’s “Fe26 series,” iron powder, oil and silver leaf congealed onto the canvas, reminded me of the creation of the galaxies. In his series, I saw a strategic layering of planes, linen squares covering aluminum or wood backgrounds incurring titles like “Trying to be a Square,” “A Square” and “Not a Square.” His iron powder and oil on linen introduced iron powder, blurring the edges and, in “Shining,” rust as the silver leaf and iron powder tarnished and degraded. In “Perform,” iron powder dripped from the top onto the acrylic, oil and epoxy on the canvas surface. In “Polyptych,” (Six 3D squares), gold leaf, copper leaf, silver leaf, oil, canvas and wood frame combine to form squares of seemingly empty landscape, blank forms bisected by one line of gold, copper or silver leaf. Simple, elusive forms and layering of planes, alluded to place in Nehdaran’s and Iran’s history.
The route continued with Aida Izadpanah’s Alignment series. Her handmade, fired and painted porcelain sculptures on wooden boards seemed relics of a bygone era, twisted and formed by natural forces. Her white sculptures, revealing gold within and on the edges resembled fragments of scrolls or fabrics while the metal pieces seemed spewed from the earth many millennia ago, twisted and crushed by natural disasters.
Her porcelain forms combined Chinese porcelain tradition, brought by the great Khans and practiced in Iran since the 13th century with sprinkling of gold onto lusterware from Shiraz. In the 12 x 12 inch handmade, fired, painted porcelain relief sculptures on wooden boards, resembling bronze or metal of her “Alignment” series, I was reminded that early bronzes in Persia consisted of small openwork, easily transportable by nomadic people. The irregular, twisted porcelain reliefs, tinged with gold seem the ancient artifacts of a precious but broken culture while the small surfaces recall the sculptures carried by travelers, as are these artists.
In Maryam Khosrovani’s “Imaginary Connection” series, the invention of an alphabet and a vocabulary was inspired by the angles of clothes hanging on a clothesline and the marks she saw in those angles. Collages made by inserting fabric into a small open space within a large “frame” become windows into the building and the clotheslines that hang from it. The geometric columns further produced an illusion of tall buildings with their many openings into private lives made public with the display of laundered clothes made visible. Each panel is different, as are the occupants of those “buildings” that inspired the collages. Ms. Khosrovani’s white “Persian miniatures,” illustrating life in her new country and the domestic life of laundered clothes, became a vocabulary for public viewing. Her large-scale photographs, also shown, in her Le Vide series, (60×40 cm., editions of 5, 2017) present bodies obscured by masses of white toilet tissue that look like bridal garments, the very private becoming public and celebratory.
On the opposing wall, Maryam Palizgir’s large photographs of her “Epiphany” series, revealed images of almost blindingly bright, colored light. Geometric forms layered upon each other made a brilliantly composed future world. I saw Maryam Palizgir’s partially hidden spaces in her photographs, opened to observe, like the pages of a book, (“Epiphany #0517, 20” x 18”, archival pigment prints) reflecting the long Persian tradition of book arts. In Palizgir’s “Epiphany #0517,” 2018, archival pigment print), geometric forms seem to hover over a blurred, watery surface and in “Epiphany #01333” and “#0136,” both 2018, paint on multi-layered veil fabric, quadrilaterals and squares overlay each other, recalling the Iranian phrase, “behind the curtain.”
Traditionally, Persian art was meant for private spaces. In the home objects of great beauty, made of lusterware and metals were hidden behind gated entrances and beautifully crafted grillwork. Books, calligraphed and illustrated, were treasured art objects, bound with covers hiding text and illuminated miniature paintings inside. This private art is now made public. We must work to understand, get close to the small collages and paintings and spend time with the work. We become aware of what has gone before and what is happening now, in Iran, here and around the world and in the private world of these artists who are attempting to form a new identity, bringing old forms with them, realizing that their traditions contribute to modern interpretation. The journey from dark work into light, so well led by the curator, Roya Khadjavi, mirrors the journey though time. We are rewarded with knowledge and awareness of the aesthetic beauty and stories presented by these artists. The artists are rewarded with our appreciation for their culture and creativity. These five artists each take a different form from their predecessors in the world of Persian art as the fragile, haunting presence of the old informs the work and the viewer.
(“Material Culture” remains on view until April 18, 2019 at Elga Wimmer Gallery PCC, 526 West 26th St., 3rd floor, #310 in New York’s Chelsea District. For more information, call (212) 206-0006.)