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A beautiful day in Tehran, topped with Parviz Tanavoli's exhibition at Modern Art Museum

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran

There are rare days that Tehran looks so lovely and beautiful that one can forgive all its shortcomings in one go. Last Thursday was on those days. The sky was truly blue and vividly bright all day. There was a wonderful sunshine all day and the cold wind which blew during the morning, made one feel wanting to be simultaneously outdoors and yet stay in the sun. The wind had managed to brighten and clear the whole city. On such days you discover building, and views that you had not seen before; it is quite amazing. There was no smog to hamper one's view, and those magnificent and majestic mountains around Tehran, all covered with the heavy snow that had befallen the city in the pervious week, looked glorious and noticeably visible. I just wished all those who love this city could be there to see it. In one simple word it was simply enchanting and purely exquisite.

That morning, I went downtown to go to the Modern Art Museum (MAM) as we were having an extra special art class there. The museum is presently showing a retrospective of the well know Iranian artist, a writer but better known as sculpture & painter, Mr. Parviz Tanavoli. Our class was to meet there, and we wanted to see the exhibition together. This exhibition must be considered one of the most important works that the MAM has undertaken in recent years, since for this purpose many works were collected from museums and peoples in Iran as well as from abroad.

We met at the Museum Café which is a very pleasant place as you have a good view of most of the garden where many sculptures are on permanent display. We had something to drink and waited until everybody came.

Mr. Tanavoli is very well known artists outside Iran. He has been very active in assisting and publishing many books, and their themes have been Carpets, Gabeh and Iranian traditional motifs and so on. He has been a teacher in Tehran as well as universities in United States.


We started about 11:00 a.m., and the first thing we noted was that, at the beginning of the exhibition on the first floor, the many books that Mr. Tanavoli has been involved with were on displays in two large glass cases near the entrance. Slowly we moved down; the first group of work was his early works from his 'sagha-khaneh' period. He was one of the main artists who started this tradition and mixed a very old Persian symbol/tradition with modern items*. (The term School of Sagha Khaneh was first used by Mr. Karim Emmani). Next we saw his latest, called gereh or knot, a gigantic green plastic, which I did find matched his other works, or may be I simply failed to understand the change and the metaphor.

Sagha-khaneh II

The classic Persian lovers Farhad & Shirin come into many of his works in different periods, specially Farhad, symbol of a hard working man who, despite the hardships in his life, retained his purer, caring and loving side. I would like to add that Mr. Tanavoli himself was the show's curator as well.

Shirin and Farhad

The next important piece was "A Shrine for the last Poet of Iran" made of bronze, a tall piece which was stunning. This was a great piece to look at, and it was gracefully tall. When I stood by it, I felt the touch of an enormous field of energy coming from this cold piece of metal within its immediate surroundings*. Without a doubt, in my opinion, it is the best piece of this exhibition, even if experts do not agree. Next we moved into the first main gallery, where we saw many of his other large bronze works, including the "Wall of Persia I - IV", "Lovers" and "Monument for Darius the Great". Many of these works have enormous number of locks, made of the similar materials, hanged onto them.

Shrine of Last Poet of Iran

We were very lucky as in this salon as we met Mr. Tanavoli in person, He is a very good looking and fit gentleman for his age and still active. We met him as he was taking some pictures of the works and the visitors. Nothing is without an effort, he is well known for having a good record of his work.

Wall of Iran II

In the nest saloon visitors came to see his famous Heech series which he started in late 60's and early 70's. Heech means Nothing in Persian*. According to him this Nothingness is positive and comes from Molana school tradition. Meaning that although this world is nothing it is up to us to make it/ turn it into something which we find pleasant and viable. Heech is nothing and it is Everything. His Recycling Poet and Heech, as well as Heech & Human Being were very interesting pieces in these series. We learnt that he chose this word-Heech- because of the many possibilities that the word could offer to work with. In the same gallery and hallway, we saw samples of posters of his many exhibitions across the world, hanging on the walls.

Heech in Cage

The last section of the exhibition showed his ceramic works, from 60's & 70's. Although these works were in a way more colorful but they made me feel quite uncomfortable to look at them. I am sure this was the intention of the artists. The figures were deformed, and gave a sense of anger and pain from the maker- the artist- towards his environment. The exhibition's last pieces were his several pieces of his Hand (s) series in a glass box. These hands were made from ceramic. The piece was mystical Simourgh (Fabulous Bird).

Overall the exhibition was good and the organizers should be commended for the good work they had done. It must have been difficult to arrange it all. The pieces were well documented and there was a good collection of the artist's works amid different periods of his career. The main shortcomings were that the works were not displayed in a chronological order and the lighting for the works were not obliging nor effective.

Heech and Neon

Without a doubt Mr. Tanavoli is a great artist and in his work he pays attention to historical elements. He is a conscious artist who cares for his roots and elements of traditions therein. He has been very successful in intertwining these symbols, real and mystical, and modernity.

Wall of Iran V

We finished our visit after two hours with a short meeting in the garden under the lovely sun and as the wind blew; we were looking at one of his famous Heechs displayed in the inner garden of the museum. "Jayeh shoma khali"

The above images are from the following book:

Pioneers of Iranian Modern Art
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art 2003
ISBN : 964-06-2356-3

... Payvand News - 3/4/03 ... --

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