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Islamic Art

A Landmark Show of Manoucher Yektai Works at Sotheby's

By Roxane Zand
Roxane Zand celebrates the importance of Iranian-American artist Manoucher Yektai ahead of an important new exhibition at Sotheby's.

O nly a handful of Iranian modern masters achieved a universal visual vocabulary that transcended culture – especially at a time when the Iranian Saqqa Khaneh movement was giving rise to folk-oriented, indigenous or calligraphic works which celebrated Iran’s past. Manoucher Yektai fearlessly forged his own path; fearless because there would have been more local recognition and commercial success on the tail of heritage-based works which his own audience would have widely appreciated.

From 26-30 April, Sotheby's is proud to host the artist's first comprehensive exhibition since 1969 – Manoucher Yektai: The Night is your Day – and two of his works will be offered at auction in the 20th Century Art / Middle East sale, also on 30 April.

As Morad Montazami has written in the catalogue to the show: “the modernist autonomy of works on a canvas as an experiential space that existed beyond the easel or salon painting model was not adopted as such in Iran”. Yektai was Iran’s artistic ‘export’: a highly cosmopolitan man with an international cultural mindset, he became a transatlantic figure, hobnobbing with fellow artists Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Rauschenberg.

He had early on recognized that the main centre for artistic discourse of the time was NY, and after his traditionally-focused artistic education in Iran followed by two years in Paris, he made his way to America where he embraced the budding school of Abstract Expressionism. This was all the more unusual in that Yektai’s subsequent heavily-impastoed, bold, vibrant technique was diametrically opposed to the miniature-style training he would have received at the Dar ol-Fonun in Tehran.

An expressive artist with a penchant for the established portraiture and still life genres, Yektai travelled an untrodden path, true to his own unique yet hybrid voice which brought together a deep aesthetic sensibility with the drip-technique more typical of the New York school - sometimes in highly poetic, lyrical compositions.As a young gallery-girl, I was privileged to be involved in his first major solo show in Tehran at the Zand Gallery, inaugurated by the Empress Farah Pahlavi in 1977. Bold, striking brushstrokes – pastels so freely executed as to be gestural, Yektai was even then perceived as a masterful artist.

Today he continues to be widely appreciated, under-represented in art historical terms, and one of the enduring stars of the Iranian art market.

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