A confluence of factors have made Nicky Nodjoumi’s inaugural show at Taymour Grahne Gallery of large-scale oil paintings and works on paper its own small-scale blockbuster. The first is its fortuitous timing with the Asia Society’s “Iran Modern” show, in which Nodjoum’s early political paintings from 1976 portraying martyred Marxists and SAVAK security agents are prominently displayed. His historical importance as part of Iran’s contemporary art movement is indisputable, and according to the Wall Street Journal, he was probably “the first artist whose work was outlawed by the mullahs.” Another first is his participation in this exhibition at the debut of the eponymous Tribeca gallery of Taymour Grahne, a blogger on Middle Eastern art.
The show sees to fruition some of the themes Nodjoumi has been pursing relentlessly for almost 40 years: politics, history, power, and corruption. Living in New York since 1981, he absorbed influences from the contemporary art world, but never forgot the trauma of living through “two dictatorial regimes: The Shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Nodjoumi’s works investigate arguments of power, ancient betrayals, and the dynamics of harm in a country hobbled and ultimately defeated by its own people. The paintings are mixed with snatches of decorative art, Ayatollah apparitions emanating behind fornicating chimps, tied up puppets, and paint dripping with echoes of warrior crusades referencing the history of the Sassanian dynasty.
The large black and white pieces executed in 2012 and 2013 are particularly compelling, stark arguments that examine the influences of an empire long ago — time, memory, backdoor collusions, and secret deals. Though the West refers to it as modern Iran, it is and will always be to its inhabitants Persia, a once great ancient empire with its own myths, poets, astrologers, warriors, kings, and queens. He deftly and stylistically shows the parallel histories percolating through much of today’s nefarious machinations.
Nicky Nodjoumi: Chasing the Butterfly and Other Recent Paintings continues at Taymour Grahne (157 Hudson Street, Tribeca, Manhattan) through October 23rd.