Gallery: Axel Vervoordt Gallery
Opening / Event Date: 15 Nov, 2017
Closing / End Date: 17 Mar, 2018
Private View: Saturday, 18 February 2–6 p.m.
Rossi & Rossi Hong Kong will mount an extensive exhibition on the career and work of Iranian-born, American artist Siah Armajani from 18 February to 15 April 2017. Works on view spanning his seven decades of output and demonstrating mastery in artistic achievement will include early drawings on paper and fabric, ideational architectural models, large-scale sculpture and recent works on paper. Inspired by poetry, American vernacular architecture, Western philosophy and his native Persian heritage, Armajani is recognised as a pioneering figure in the conceptualisation of the role of art in the public realm.
A strong sense of nationalism, along with a love of Persian literature and miniature art, inspired the artist’s early calligraphic works, which represent the nascence of his long-term interest in probing the links between word and image. A significant group of works from this period will be on view, including Paria No. 1 (1957), an expression of his revolutionary angst through the lines of the poet Ahmad Shamlu (1925–2000) written below the floating image of the archangel Gabriel. The role of text in Armajani’s work is later echoed in the inscriptions on his celebrated large public works, such as the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (1988), as well as in sculptures like Murder in Tehran (2009), a fiery critique of the violent attacks on the mass protests against the re-election of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Four Houses for Four Conditions (1974–75), a group of the artist’s early architectural models, demonstrates Armajani’s investigations into spaces of interaction, gathering, crossing and communication. With an emphasis on ideas over reality, these sculptures position his work as conceptualist models with illogical conditions and improbable encounters. For Armajani, bridges orchestrate unfolding narratives with the commonplace and unexpected choreography of pedestrian movement, offering an expansive concept of ‘public’ as something shared and determined, solitary and occasional.
Armajani’s Tomb series (1972–2016) pays tribute to philosophers, activists, poets and critical thinkers who have been foundational voices to his art and ideology. Amongst them, Tomb for Heidegger (2012) employs the vernacular architecture of the American frontier in a large-scale sculptural memorial for Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), a pre-eminent German philosopher of the 20th century. Heidegger’s 1954 essay, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, a seminal discourse on architectural phenomenology, links dwelling to the ‘gathering of the fourfold’, or regions of being as entailed by the phenomena of ‘the saving of earth, the reception of sky (heavens), the initiation of mortals into their death, and the awaiting/remembering of divinities’. The philosopher’s critical thought has informed Armajani’s work over many decades, and remains essential to his greater body of work.
At nearly six metres in length, Armajani’s Written Berlin, Tomb for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Walter Benjamin (2014–15) exemplifies the artist’s technique in calligraphic script. The work pays tribute to the philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) and the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), both of whom died during the time of the repressive National Socialist Party’s rule of Germany. The drawing depicts a cityscape of early 20th-century Berlin, interweaving Armajani’s own calligraphic translations into the Farsi of Benjamin’s memoir, Berlin Childhood around 1900, and the biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.
The exhibition will offer a comprehensive viewing of architecturally scaled sculptures that reflect significant movements in the artist’s career, including Bridge Over a Tree (1970), The Art of Bridgemaking 2 & 3 (1974) and Street Corner No. 2 (1995).
Armajani will give a public talk moderated by Tobias Berger on 20 February in Hong Kong. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org or +852 3575 9417.
The exhibition will be on view with special engagements during Art Basel Hong Kong from 23 to 25 March. A fully illustrated catalogue will be published to coincide with the exhibition. Please contact the gallery for more information.
Siah Armajani (b. 1939, Tehran) moved to the United States from Iran in 1960. He attended Macalester College in Minnesota, where he studied philosophy; he lives and works in Minneapolis. His sculptures, drawings and public works exist between the boundaries of art and architecture, informed by democratic and populist ideals. Armajani is recognised as a leading figure in the conceptualisation of the role and function of public art, with nearly one hundred projects realized internationally since the 1960s.
The artist’s education in Western thought and philosophy began in Tehran, where he attended a Presbyterian school for Iranian students, and continued through his undergraduate years in the US. Early theoretical interests continue to influence his work, taking form in objects and architectural spaces designed in homage to literary, philosophical and political figures, including Martin Heidegger, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodor Adorno, Ahmad Shamlou and Alfred Whitehead.
American vernacular architecture has been a consistent visual motif in Armajani’s practice, and is manifest in his public works, including bridges, gardens and outdoor structures. In the artist’s words: ‘I am interested in the nobility of usefulness. My intention is to build open, available, useful, common, public gathering places – gathering places that are neighbourly’. These concerns take form in his ongoing series titled Reading Rooms and Reading Gardens, as well as public spaces, pavilions and shelters for social exchanges or solitary meditation. Armajani’s Tombs series (1972–2016) references both American modernist and vernacular architecture, playing tribute to figures including Walt Whitman, John Berryman, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, amongst others.
Armajani’s most celebrated public artworks are bridges, walkways and gardens, including the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (1988), Minneapolis; the World Financial Center’s promenade (in collaboration with Scott Burton and CesarPelli) (1986), Battery Park City, New York; Gazebo for Two Anarchists (1992), Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York; Floating Poetry Room (2005), Ijburg, Amsterdam; Bridge for Iowa City (2000), University of Iowa; and numerous gardens at Villa Arson Museum, Nice. He was commissioned to design the Cauldron for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
The artist has been the subject of more than fifty solo exhibitions since 1978, including surveys and retrospectives at Parasol unit, London (2013); the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2008); Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva (2007, tour); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (1999, tour); Villa Arson, Nice (1994); Lannan Foundation, Los Angeles (1992); Kunsthalle Basel (1987); Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster (1987, tour); and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (1985). The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is planning a large-scale retrospective of Armajani scheduled to open in 2018.
His work has also been featured in group exhibitions, including Passages in Modern Art: 1954–1966, Dallas Museum of Art (2016); Cycle Des histoires sans fin, sequence automne–hiver 2015–2016, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva (2015); Art Expanded, 1958–1978 and Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2014); Iran Modern, Asia Society, New York (2013); Spectacular of the Vernacular, Minneapolis Institute of Arts (2011); Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East, British Museum, London (2006); Far Near Distance: Contemporary Positions of Iranian Artists, House of World Cultures, Berlin (2004); Carnegie International, Pittsburgh (1988); Skulptur Projekte Münster ’87 (1987); International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1984); 74th Annual American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago (1982); Whitney Biennial; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1981); 39th Venice Biennale, American Pavilion (1980); Information, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970); and Documenta 5 (1972), 7 (1982) and 8 (1987), Kassel.
Armajani’s work is in numerous public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Dallas Museum of Art; the British Museum, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
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