20th Century Art / Middle East

20th Century Art / Middle East

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 64. PARVIZ TANAVOLI | THE WALL AND THE SCRIPT I.

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection, Paris


Lot Closed

March 31, 02:00 PM GMT


50,000 - 70,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property from a Distinguished Private Collection, Paris





signed, dated and numbered Parvis. 05. 5/6 on the base


height: 67 cm.; 26⅜ in.

The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by the artist. 

Please note that consumer cancellation rights do not apply to this lot.

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Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the artist in 2010) 

Samar Faruqi, Ed., Parviz Tanavoli Monograph, Dubai 2010, p. 96, (another edition in installation view) & p. 345 (another edition), illustrated / in colour 

Artist, sculptor, anthropologist, writer and teacher, Parviz Tanavoli is above all an inspiration to those who love Persian culture and its folkloric roots. He is known as the 'father of Iranian sculpture' and considered one of the most successful Iranian artists of all time. His works have been auctioned around the world and broken records, with collectors, museums and institutions vying for his art. Born in 1937 in Iran, Tanavoli attended the University of Tehran and the Brera Academy in Milan where he graduated in 1959. He taught sculpture for three years at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, after which he returned to Iran and assumed the directorship of the sculpture department at Tehran University for 18 years. Since the Revolution, he has divided his time between Tehran and Vancouver, continuing to teach and mentor a younger generation of artists in Iran at his studio. Most recently in 2017 the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMOCA) held an exhibition of his Lion rugs and Lion collection, while two years earlier the Davis Museum at Wellesley College organized a major retrospective for him. TMOCA also held a retrospective of his works in 2003, acting as a culmination to a series of prior shows in Austria, Italy, Germany, USA and Britain over the years. His work has been displayed in major museums around the world: at the Tate Modern and the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY the Grey Art Gallery, South Korea's Olympic Park, the Royal Museum of Jordan, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Museum of Modern Art, NY, and various other prestigious venues.

It would be hard to know where to start in describing the oeuvre of Parviz Tanavoli. He embodies and has expounded every aspect of his native culture with a unique, unmatched scrutiny and aesthetic. In his own words, "Poetry, this oldest companion of mankind, pervades the atmosphere of our land, and the bone that withstands pressure from within to transform energy into motion is invisible to our eyes. My sculptures are a melange of poetry and bones and the memory of locks and cages and windows and numerous other openings which have been perpetuated from the times of Farhad, Carver of the Mountain, to my day. What I am exhibiting is a phenomenon, brimful with poetry and the motion of bones from within, which may be observed from the bottom of the holes which I have opened in the body of my bones." (Exh. Cat., Wellesley, Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Parviz Tanavoli, 2015). Tanavoli sought his aesthetic in the 'bones' of his culture, its folklore, mythology and traditions. As a key exponent of the Saqqakhaneh movement, he delved into explorations of motifs he would find in locks crafted in bazaars, in shrines, old buildings and anywhere that piqued his innate curiosity for his heritage. Of his Walls series he has said that they represent the walls of Iran. He saw walls everywhere as he was growing up, even the patterns along the borders of carpets appeared as walls to him. During his first visit to Persepolis, he was awestruck by the notion that he was descended from the figures depicted in relief on those walls. Hence this became an important part of his visual vocabulary, just as his famous Heech series came to be the trademark symbol of his most profound philosophical sentiments. His Nothings are the nothings of hope and friendship, a proportionate calligraphic perfection which adapts to a whole variety of poses and linkages. It is both object and language, a characteristic that pervades this most Iranian of artists who has also touched a vast and extensive international audience. The 'metalanguage' of his iconic Heeches remains at the heart of his oeuvre.  

Despite the many manifestations of his artistic talent - whether in creating beautiful Lion rugs, executing remarkable paintings, or creating the most covetable collection of jewellery, Tanavoli is first and foremost a sculptor. His Poets and Lovers are an ode to the greatest Persian love story, that of Shirin and Farhad - Tanavoli's muse and unending source of inspiration. Farhad the legendary 'carver' left nothing to posterity except for the near-impossible feat of carving Mount Bisotoun. Upon its completion, he fell to his death on hearing the false news of his lover's death. This tale has played a momentous role in Tanavoli's life, as he took on the mantle of reviving sculpture in a country where that tradition had not survived beyond Farhad.

Tanavoli's technique is chiefly to make assemblage pieces, adding and linking pieces to each other rather than following the Western style of starting from a mass and carving it into a shape. Over a span of six decades, Tanavoli has 'carved' out a whole landscape of three-dimensional art within the Iranian art world but which he adds to the universal tradition of sculpture with his own particular 'pop' style, sometimes naive, other times minimalist. As an artist, he had always wanted to forge his own path; alongside artist and architect Kamran Diba he wanted to challenge the prevailing tastes for 'pretty' art, and the kind of academic style handed down from the Kamal-ol Mulk school. When he returned to Iran from a period in Italy, Tanavoli opened a studio in Tehran called Atelier Kaboud which quickly became a hub for poets, painters, architects and filmmakers. This collective, which included Marcos Grigorian, Sirak Melkonian, Bijan Saffari, and Sohrab Sepehri, called themselves the Contemporary Artists and wrote a letter to the Fine Arts Administration of Iran asking for more public support for Iranian artists. In June 1961 the collective organized an exhibition of their works in the lobby of the Bank Saderat, an event which was very well attended. In that crowd was the collector Abby Weed Grey who was coincidentally in Tehran. The two met, and the start of a close friendship began where Tanavoli helped curate Grey's acquisitions, now gifted to New York University (NYU) as part of the Grey Art Gallery. Later, Tanavoli curated the first ever show of modern Iranian art in the United States. In Iran, he designed a modern sculpture workshop in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and in an annex to this, he supervised the construction of a ceramics kiln and a bronze foundry. In this way, he ensured the growth of generations of young, budding artists and sculptors. Even the 'club' Rasht 29 which he set up with Kamran Diba became a lounge for a section of the young and rising creative community - an initiative which was recently highlighted in a Barbican Centre show in London in 2020. In exchange for membership, young artists donated a work to the club, creating a type of public collection. In fact, the club hosted the first auction of contemporary Iranian art, and although the venue closed after a few years and it was decades before the beginnings of the Iranian art market as we know it, this initiative not only nurtured many well-known artists of the modern era, but also served as the seed idea for the building of a contemporary art museum in Tehran. 

An enduring legacy is the mark of greatness in any field. Parviz Tanavoli has indeed given his homeland a significant legacy with his work, creativity, scholarship and mentoring of younger generations. Each of his sculptures chronicles a unique story, a re-telling of the tales of his forefathers that he treasures and has passed down for the benefit of world culture. The exceptional piece presented in Sotheby's current sale is a fine example of a Wall and Script which typifies the best of this series. The calligraphic carvings hark back to the tradition of the mythological Farhad, and reminiscent of inscriptions found in Iran's historic monuments. This covetable work will enhance any fine collection of Iranian modernism and inform the discerning eye of the international buyer in search of a masterpiece.