Iran has opened its first museum dedicated to a solo female artist – Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, who has received widespread international attention during decades in overseas.
The nonagenarian doyenne of Iranian art and friend of Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, had her first US solo museum exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York in 2015.
On Friday, the Monir Museum opened in Tehran at the historic Negarestan park gardens. It displays 51 works, including her signature mirror mosaics, abstract monotypes and reverse glass paintings, inspired by geometric patterns germane to ancient Iranian architecture, particularly those seen in mosques.
All the pieces on display in the museum have recently been donated by Farmanfarmaian to its permanent collection, which is managed by Tehran University.
“All my inspiration has come from Iran – it has always been my first love,” Farmanfarmaian told the Guardian from Tehran on the eve of the opening. “When I travelled the deserts and the mountains, throughout my younger years, all that I saw and felt is now reflected in my art.”
Farmanfarmaian said she gifted her works because she wanted to honour her last husband, Abolbashar Farmanfarmaian. “[He] was a law professor at the University of Tehran, and so I gifted them 51 pieces – this museum is now the first for a female artist in Iran,” she said.
Her works, some of which have been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Artand the Tate Modern, combine complex geometric patterns seen in traditional Persian art with western modern abstraction and expressionism.
The leading Iranian art critic Shiva Balaghi said the opening was “a truly historic moment”.
“It is a fitting tribute for one of the most important living artists today,” she said. “This museum really becomes a window on to Iranian modernity, showing the ways Monir has brought together abstraction with Islamic geometry to create a uniquely Iranian art form.”
Balaghi said the artist’s return to Iran had stimulated her creativity. “Monir has called this her ‘graceful twilight’ but in fact it’s been the most productive and successful time for her as an artist.”
In recent years, Iran has begun to embrace previously shunned artists, many of whom have lived abroad, including the New York-based Shirin Neshat and Parviz Tanavoli.
Tanavoli, who pioneered the Saqqakhaneh school of art, a neo-traditionalist movement and one of the earliest manifestations of Iranian modernism, held an exhibition earlier this year at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
TMOCA has one of the finest collections of modern art anywhere outside Europe and the US, boasting works by Pollock, Warhol, Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch, René Magritte and Mark Rothko.
In a 2014 documentary by Bahman Kiarostami, called Monir, Farmanfarmaian said her work was “not distinct from Iranian architecture … starting with a triangle, then moving towards a 10-sided polygon. So I want to show the infinite possibilities of creating new forms out of these geometric forms.”
Kiarostami said the venue for the new museum, a Qajar-era palace complex, was suitable because “a lot of her mirror works belong to the era of Qajar dynasty and Safavid dynasties, when these kinds of mirror work were being used routinely”.
“She never wanted to work outside the patterns seen in the Iranian traditional architecture. In modern life, for many people there seems to be a disconnect with that tradition but she never felt like that.”