20th Century Art / Middle East
A vibrant international platform for modern and contemporary arts spanning an array of countries and regions, this Spring’s edition of Sotheby’s 20th Century Art / Middle East will present seminal works by revered artists. The exhibition opens to the public in London on 20 April, unveiling rare masterworks by Mahmoud Said, Bahman Mohasses, Monir Farmanfarmaian, Shakir Hassan Al Said and Saliba Douhayi, among others.
Monir Farmanfarmaian, Recollections I, mirror mosaic, reverse-glass painting and aluminium on plaster on board, 2008 (est. £160,000-200,000) ‘Each of these forms has thousands and thousands of ways to see it. Mirrors are a reflection of anything and everything. You become part of that mirror. It is communication—the mirror and yourself, the piece of art and yourself.’ Defying classification, Monir Farmanfarmaian’s inimitable style evokes a nostalgia for Iran’s ancient culture alongside the influence her Western education and close friendships with the leading names of Abstract Expressionism in New York.
Farmanfarmaian’s works shine a light on the unexplored traditions of geometry craftsmanship that she had grown up with, combining this with her love of gardens and fascination with colour and form. Indeed, she was the first contemporary artist to reinvent the Persian craft of mirror mosaics. In Recollections I, the centre is decorated with two medallions of reverse glass paintings of flowers, reminiscent of the Persian gol a bolbol (‘the rose and the nightingale’) designs that are synonymous with the lyrical ethos of the Safavid and Qajar periods. Thus her hypnotic artworks are a cutting-edge visual amalgamation of Persian elements with a modern aesthetic.
In December 2017, The Monir Museum opened in a former Qajar-era palace in Tehran – the first museum dedicated to a solo female artist in Iran. Her kaleidoscopic works are also held in collections of prestigious museums across the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum in London.
Mahmoud Said, Adam and Eve, oil on panel, 1937 (est. £300,000-500,000) Appearing at auction for the first time, this sumptuous painting by Mahmoud Saïd depicts the Quranic icons, Adam and Eve as two imposing, almost surreal, figures within a lush desert oasis. Saïd is renowned the founder of modern Egyptian art during a time of intellectual renaissance in the country, and this daring and vivid work from 1937 perfectly encapsulates the dialogue between the history of art in Europe and the sensuous qualities of the prevailing Egyptian spirit. Inspired by Old Masters such as Lucas Cranach, Baroque artists Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt and the romantic fantasies of modernist Paul Cezanne, Mahmoud Saïd drew on a plethora of influences in a continuous quest for the ‘magical light’ derived from an Egyptian consciousness. Bringing to life ripened palm trees, the pooling blue canals of the Nile and rolling sand dunes in the distance, Saïd places these historic figures firmly in an idyllic yet familiar Egyptian landscape. By introducing a universal Biblical subject, juxtaposed with the traditional backdrop of Egypt, the artist encourages the viewer – be it the aristocracy or the general public – to imagine themselves as equal and important as the Western Orientalist would.
Bahman Mohasses, Il Minotauro fa Paura alla Gente per Bene, oil on canvas, 1966 (est. £280,000- 350,000) Bahman Mohasses, Minotauro Seduto (Sitting Minotaur), bronze with Plexiglass base made by the artist, 1972 (est. £20,000-30,000) One of the rarest works by the pioneering icon of Iranian modernism to ever appear at auction, Bahman Mohasses’ The Minotaur Scares the Good People is a highly-charged representation of the artist’s lifetime grappling with demons of alienation, loneliness and disenfranchisement. The dreamscape is populated with a plethora of half-human half-beast creatures, one of very few works by the artist to contain quite so many detailed figures. Filled with movement, anguish and despair, the composition brings to mind both Pablo Picasso’s renowned series on the Minotaur and Francis Bacon’s ￼￼ anthropomorphic figures. A symbol of mythic power alongside mortality, Mohasses’ Minotaur is a manifestation of ultimate yet truncated power. Hailing from the sought-after period of the 1960s, this irreverent avant-garde painting is being offered at auction for the first time. The sale also features another of Mohasses’ minotaurs, in the form of a languorous yet sinewy bronze sculpture.
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