by Talinn Grigor. Reaktion Books, dist. by University of Chicago Press, October 2014. 296 p. ill. ISBN 9781780232706 (pbk.), $39.00.
Reviewed January 2015
Dan Lipcan, Digital Initiatives and Metadata Librarian, Thomas J. Watson Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, email@example.com
Along with fundamental changes for Iranian society at large, the 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in a more restrictive reality for the art scene compared to the leeway enjoyed by artists, galleries, and museums under the Pahlavi dynasty. Talinn Grigor, associate professor in the Department of Fine Arts at Brandeis University, effectively mixes history, politics, visual culture, and the built environment in Contemporary Iranian Art to explain its development since that watershed event. She does so by organizing the contemporary Iranian art world into three arenas. "The Street" investigates the art and visual culture promulgated by the Islamic Republic that occurs in the public space. Next is "The Studio," introducing the participants in the domestic art scene: artists, galleries, and museums. Third, "The Exile," describes the art of the Iranian diaspora and their struggles with identity, depending on their affinities for the current sociopolitical climate. Grigor demonstrates that these three arenas cannot help but cross-pollinate and influence each other, while the state of politics and tendency to suspicion among individuals prevent a view of the full scope of Iranian art.
The author recounts return trips to Iran to conduct field research: to speak with artists, gallerists, curators; to visit galleries and museums; and to experience the atmosphere and scene herself. In Iran, the fear of reprisal engenders an environment of danger and risk, seemingly requiring that players operate with an additional layer of privacy and self-censorship. Grigor admits running into dead ends because her personal connections do not gain her access, or because individuals can no longer be contacted. Though it sometimes reads as if the author is guarding against causing offense, the text is dense with history and politics and provides an important window into a culture that many find inscrutable. However, instead of negatively affecting the narrative, such complications make the portrayal of Iran's contemporary art scene more fascinating.
This monograph is very well-illustrated, including many personal snapshots that, while occasionally of lesser quality, nonetheless convey successfully a sense of the local environment. Grigor includes an extensive bibliography, a notes section and a sufficient index, though not all names mentioned in the text appear there. Reaktion's paperback edition is sturdy and printed on quality paper stock. Complementary to other recent works on the subject, such as those by Hamid Keshmirshekan, Contemporary Iranian Art: From the Street to the Studio would be a valuable addition to contemporary art collections as well as those with holdings in Middle Eastern architecture and visual culture.