In 2011, Meulensteen presented Siah Armajani: 1957-1964. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to view work from the early period of Armajani’s oeuvre; it marks the first time that the works on view will be shown in the United States. An additional major piece from this period, Prayer (1960), will be on view concurrently at MoMA PS1 as part of the exhibition September 11, curated by Peter Eleey. Armajani’s early drawings and paintings are distinguished by a poetic use of Persian script, an enigmatic appropriation of sacred imagery, and a manipulation of traditional techniques. The works are influenced as much by Persian miniatures and folk tales as they are by the cultural environment of 1950s Tehran and Armajani’s personal experiences at that time. Palpable throughout is an acute political sensibility that has come to be a defining characteristic of his practice. Armajani was born in 1939 in Tehran, Iran. In 1960 he came to the United States to attend Macalester College and has lived and worked in Minneapolis ever since, creating a body of work that incorporates architecture, sculpture, and literature. His visionary explorations of the built environment have resulted in artworks ranging from major public sculptural commissions to intimate works on paper. Throughout his career he has sought to locate the philosophical, political, and ethical implications inherent in structures of all kinds, and has made surprising connections between the language of architecture and the languages of poetry, history, and democracy. The years following the August 1953 coup d’état, ending Mossadegh’s government, were a dark and harrowing time in Tehran and a formative period for Armajani. When not at school or working for the National Front, he investigated his city by foot, spending most of his time in South Tehran, an area he describes as “a universe unto itself,” populated by those who recently had been turned into outcasts by the new regime. Armajani’s experiences helped further an interest in the political that had been instilled in him by his grandmother who, as a young girl raised in trying times, had risked her safety to assist rebel fighters. It was not until arriving in the United States that Armajani first met another Iranian artist or was exposed to contemporary Iranian art. In his earliest works, his primary references included Persian miniatures as well as the dense design of opposition party posters and certificates, filled with Farsi script and images of farmers and factory workers. Also influential to Armajani at this time were the scribes he saw stationed in front of the post office in South Tehran, who could be hired to write personal letters and prayers. The work on view bridges these references masterfully and unexpectedly; the script in these works ranges from tightly packed and analytical to sparse and ephemeral. They reveal the experimental and inquisitive brilliance of the mind of a young artist with an intuitive sense of composition and a resolute desire to examine and express his world. Siah Armajani is represented in some of the most important museum collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the British Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, the Museum für Moderne Kunst, and the Walker Art Center. He has had recent solo exhibitions at MAMCO, Geneva; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Over the course of his career, his work has been included in numerous exhibitions and institutions throughout the world, including the Venice Biennale; the Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona; the Serpentine Gallery, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, among many others. In 2010 he was honored with the Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government; the same year he was the recipient of the McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist award. Siah Armajani: Citizen Artist, a retrospective of Armajani’s work co-organized by The Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) and the Walker Art Center, will open at OCMA in November 2013 and at the Walker in March 2014. It is co-curated by Dennis Szakacs, Director of the Orange County Museum of Art and Joan Rothfuss, Adjunct Curator at the Walker Art Center.
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