“Modernisms” displays the rich culture of Asian and Middle Eastern modernist art


Source: Lindsay Bosch

Keep Slim by Vivan Sundaram. The collage of ink and photographs is a part of 114 modernist artworks from Iran, Turkey and India in the forthcoming “Modernism” Block exhibit.

Yunkyo Kim, Assistant Campus Editor

In the 1960s and 70s, Abby Weed Grey traveled through Asia and the Middle East collecting works of modernism, a movement that, even now, is widely perceived as a Western phenomenon.

The collection is a permanent installation at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, which Grey established in 1974. At Northwestern, the 114 paintings, sculptures and drawings out of Grey’s collection will be on display from Jan. 21 to April 5 at the Block Museum of Art. Patrons can enjoy a boundless, vibrant collection including the works of Parviz Tanavoli, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi and Faramarz Pilaram.

“Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection,” does more than comment on the plurality of non-Western modernist art. The new collection celebrates expression, cultural significance and transnational dialogue, Lindsay Bosch, senior manager of marketing and communications at Block, said.

“It’s not modernism, it’s modernisms,” Bosch said. “We are showcasing new forms of global modernism that visitors may not be aware of.”

Through this exhibit, audiences can reevaluate modernism, a genre that abandons traditional artistic conventions for experimentation, as a movement not merely beyond the west, but in dual-dialogue within a globalizing world, Bosch said.

In highlighting the variety of modern art, the Block hopes to contribute to its growing repertoire of diverse exhibits in its “year of global modernisms,” Bosch said. Museum visitors can explore the exhibit in three sections separated by nation.

The “year of global modernisms,” which commenced with last quarter’s “Pop América, 1965-1975,” refocuses the lens on mid-20th century art to non-Western sides of the world, bringing culturally significant artworks from Latin America, the Middle East, India, Mexico and more. Each exhibit happens in conjunction with film events, conversations with local artists and other special programming.

“Modernism” will be displayed alongside a companion installment, “Regional Modernisms: Works from the Block’s Permanent Collection,” juxtaposing American contributions on modernism.

The works featured in “Modernisms” are products of the cultural and political context of their era, and the museum curators are aware of the implications of such collection, Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts, said. Abby Weed Grey was a white American who collected Asian and Middle Eastern art.

The curators will promote the artworks with an emphasis on the artists’ heritage, Kathleen Bickford Berzock, associate director of curatorial events, said

“When you look at Abby Weed Grey’s collection and her interests, you can’t separate it from her identity as an American,” Berzock said. “While this is a collection that comes from NYU and was created by a particular woman with a particular perspective, we are very interested in foregrounding the perspectives and experiences of the artists themselves.”

Metzger said they were in a unique position to discuss the political context of the artwork. Block Museum will engage graduate students in the department of art history at Northwestern to discuss the cultural connotations of the work in the modern era.

Several special events will occur throughout the quarter to supplement the exhibition. The opening conversation on Jan. 22 will feature a discussion between three graduate students studying “multiple modernities.” Throughout the quarter, the Block will host gallery talks by students who study the artistic cultures of Iran, Turkey and India.

Metzger said he looks forward to showing works of Asian and Middle Eastern art that combine tradition, heritage and globalization, as well as witnesses to the political context of that era.

“The really exciting dialogue that the visitors of the exhibit will get to participate in is seeing how modernism was not really a contradiction of the traditional forms of artmaking,” Metzger said. “(Modernism) created a really rich and complex intersection between tradition and modernity.”

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