The artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian—whose dazzling mosaics of mirror, metal, and glass married traditional Iranian art forms with Western modernism and abstraction—died at her home in Tehran on Saturday. She was 96 years old.
Born in the city of Qazvin in 1923, Farmanfarmaian studied at the University of Tehran and then, after moving to New York City in 1944, at Parsons. During this New York stint, she worked as a fashion illustrator, meeting and befriending fellow aspiring artist Andy Warhol. Farmanfarmaian moved back to Tehran in the 1950s with her second husband, Abol Bashar Farmanfarmaian. By the 1970s, Farmanfarmaian had developed her distinctive style of mirror and glass mosaics, melding the Persian technique of reverse-glass painting with the formal language of Minimalism.
In a 2015 interview with curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist for Interview, Farmanfarmaian recalled the origins of her mirror works:
When I went to mosque in Shiraz and palaces, I saw they had wall-to-wall mirrors, I said, “How wonderful it would be if I could bring a piece of that into people’s houses and living rooms,” so I started doing mirror works that way. First I was doing my own design and cutting the mirror and painting behind the glass, which was done 200 years ago by Russians and Iranians—flowers, portraits, things like that. I did that in a very abstract way, mixed it with mirror, and then I became aware of geometry.
At the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Farmanfarmaians fled—in the process, losing an art collection that included works by Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, and Alexander Calder—and moved back to New York. Her husband died in 1991, and in 2004 Farmanfarmaian moved back to Tehran, where she spent the last 15 years of her life creating some of the most complex and large-scale works of her career. Some of these were featured in major solo shows at the Irish Museum of Modern Art last year, the Guggenheim Museum in 2015, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2013, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006.
In an interview published in Artforum in 2015, Farmanfarmaian mused:
These recent shows have been a remarkable time in my life because for so long I was really a nobody. Little by little, I’ve become. . . I don’t know. . . better known? Certainly the Guggenheim wasn’t giving me a show until now. I lived in New York for almost forty years, and moved there initially in 1944 to be a student. I was friends with many poets and artists at the time: Calder, Mitchell, Avery. I used to go to a club once a month on Tenth Street; all the artists would gather there and one would give a talk. I remember Philip Johnson, de Kooning, Newman, and then after that they would all go to the Cedar Tavern. I would follow but I wouldn’t drink. I had a lot of fun, though. Anyway, these days in Tehran the disco doesn’t let me in!