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Unparalleled collection of Modern Art from India, Iran and Turkey on view at The Block Museum

A major exhibition at The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University is the first to bring together modern art from Iran, Turkey and India, seeking to expand Western perspectives of modern art.

“Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Grey Collection” surveys art from three nations where unique and vibrant forms of modernism sprang forth in the 1960s and 70s.  Challenging histories of artistic modernism that too often begin and end in the West, “Modernisms” explores an under-recognized flowering of innovation and risk-taking in art beyond Europe and North America.

The exhibition will be on view Jan. 21 to April 5, 2020, at The Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive on the Evanston campus.

Organized by New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, “Modernisms” draws 114 selected works from the unparalleled collection of Grey Art Gallery founder Abby Weed Grey. The exhibition marks the first time that selections from its Iranian, Turkish and Indian modern art holdings have been presented together in a cross-cultural study. In doing so, Modernisms sheds new light on how artists of the period created works that drew on their specific heritages while also engaging in global discourses.

“Drawing on a range of influences including local traditions and the sights and sounds of modern life, artists from these nations forged distinctive new modes of expression,” said Block Museum Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs Kathleen Bickford Berzock. “These artworks represent a wide range of responses to unique, regional histories and to a rapidly changing world in the mid-20th century. It is an extraordinary opportunity to have these works in one exhibition, allowing us to see with fresh eyes that global art is a central component of modernity.” 

“Modernisms” premiered at NYU’s Grey Gallery Sept. 10 where it ran through Dec. 7. After its Jan. 21 to April 5, 2020 run at The Block, the exhibition will travel to the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery in fall 2020. 

Curated by Lynn Gumpert, director of the Grey Art Gallery, the exhibition’s presentation at The Block is overseen by Berzock and Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts. The exhibition is accompanied by a 288-page catalogue, “Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection,” co-published by Hirmer Publishers and the Grey Art Gallery.

An Unparalleled Collection

“Modernisms” draws from the collection of Abby Weed Grey (1902-1983). With nearly 700 artworks, the Abby Weed Grey Collection represents the largest institutional assemblage of modern Iranian and Turkish art outside of Iran and Turkey as well as the most important trove of modern Indian art in an American university museum.  In the 1960s and early ’70s, when few other American collectors were attuned to art being made in the Middle East and Asia, Grey traveled extensively in these regions, steadily acquiring works by contemporary local artists.

Influenced by local traditions, cultural exchange and the sights and sounds of modern life, artists in Iran, Turkey and India forged distinctive new modes of expression. From Iranian and Turkish artists who explored calligraphy and ornamentation through avant-garde abstraction, to Indian painters whose expressive canvases drew upon Hindu iconography, the selected works in Modernisms reflect the lively dialogue between East and West, past and present. These works testify to both the continuity of culture and the disruption of modernity. 

Read More about artists highlighted in the exhibition.

Multiple Modernities

“Modernisms”participates in ongoing discourse seeking to critically reexamine the canon of modern art, including projects such as the recent renovated galleries of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, with their expanded presentation of works created by artists from around the globe.

“Modernisms” is the second presentation in The Block Museum’s “Year of Global Modernisms” highlighting the diversity of mid-20th-century art as it is entwined with culture and politics around the globe. In fall 2019, The Block presented “Pop América 1965-1975”, the first exhibition to unify Latin American and Latinx expressions of Pop Art from across the hemisphere. In spring 2020 the museum will showcase “Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s -1980s.”  Concurrent to “Modernisms,” The Block will present Terence Gower’s “Ciudad Moderna,” a 2004 media work investigating the modernist contemporary built environments of 1960s Mexico. 

“Northwestern University and The Block Museum of Art are committed to fostering global perspectives in teaching and learning,” said Block Museum Director Lisa Corrin. “The global framework helps us consider contemporary issues and allows us new ways to think about history and its narratives.”   

Exhibition Support

“Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection” is organized by the Grey Art Gallery, New York University and is made possible in part by the generous support of Dalinc and Mehves Ariburnu; Violet Jabara Charitable Trust; WLS Spencer Foundation; A. Alfred Taubman Foundation; Avid Modjtabai; Charina Endowment Fund; Persian Heritage Foundation; Vazifdar Builders Pvt. Ltd.; Ariel and Alaleh Ostad; the Grey’s Director’s Circle, Inter/National Council and Friends; and the Abby Weed Grey Trust. In-kind support is provided by ArtCareNYC Inc. The Block’s presentation of the exhibition is supported in part by generous gifts from Anu and Arjun Aggarwal, Emine and Selim Gulcelik and by the Illinois Arts Council Agency.    

Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art is a dynamic, imaginative and innovative teaching and learning resource for the University and its surrounding communities, featuring a global exhibition program that crosses time periods and cultures and serves as a springboard for thought-provoking discussions relevant to our lives today. Admission to the museum is always free and open to all.​  

The Block Museum is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle, which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theater, dance and visual arts. 

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