Glittering Histories: Farhad Moshiri at The Third Line

Images courtesy of the artist and The Third Line

Farhad Moshiri may be a familiar name in the regional scene, but Close-Up features a new lot of his characteristic hand-embroidered works alongside two older portraits from 2014 that have never before been exhibited. Touching on Western aesthetics with Eastern sensibilities, Moshiri’s oeuvre is luminous, playful, intricate and heavy with historical context, stemming from a long journey that has seen numerous ups and downs, and an obsessive desire to keep a vast archive of found imagery and objects that inform his visual foundation.

There is a strong shared visual language that Moshiri engages via his method of hand-embroidered beadwork that is rooted in both Western and Eastern artistic tropes. It reflects Persian craftmanship as much as it does US Pop Art from the 1950s and 60s. While his upbringing in Iran until age 15 gave exposure to an array of art forms from across the globe, it was his shift – both a choice and political necessity – to the US that saw him embrace Abstract Expressionist painting, which would eventually lead to embroidery, and even more full circle, to the 2018 First Snow series on display at The Third Line.

While at art school in California, Moshiri encountered seminal American artist John Baldessari, who was for a time his professor. Baldessari’s method of collecting and reproducing imagery revealed a new approach to art – and paired with his contemporaries fascination with “second-hand art” – Moshiri soon left his tumultuous relationship with painting behind, later referring to it as a frequently visited old friend with whom he also had frequent break ups. Indulging in the process of collecting found imagery and objects from China and Japan – and occasionally producing his own photography – in a conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Moshiri shared, “I hit on something that would entertain me for a long time: the idea of using bad taste, for a lack of better words.” Exposed to Pop Art’s cousin Kitsch Art, Moshiri’s amassed collection of things resulted in his Jar series and sculptural works, as well as his number and letter paintings. The response, however, was challenging. Moshiri shared that the public was unreceptive, and while he has always gotten a kick out of feedback both positive and negative, he admits in retrospect that the timing of his artistic offerings was off.

The 180-degree evolution from one series to the next has largely been influenced by response, and the flexibility and adaptability of his practice speaks volumes. A turning point in his career was an exhibition he did under Fereydoun Ave, where he exhibited a golden vitrine with 150 objects – still ahead of its time – marking the start of his engagement with decorative materials. But the process was still not necessarily smooth – by 2004, after he had returned to Iran, he encountered Neo-Geometric Conceptualism in an issue of Artforum, a movement spearheaded by Jeff Koons and Ashley Bickerton, an old friend who had moved to New York. “It was a brilliant issue,” he told Obrist. “It just hit me, I thought, “why don’t you just poke a dagger in my heart and finish me off.’”

Iran did not deter Moshiri’s fascination with secondary and copied art – Kitsch’s illustrative, pop and mundane focus, along with the concept of appropriation and its popular translation into dot matrices, found their way into Moshiri’s perception of censorshop-induced pixelation in some Iranian imagery. This breaking down, or abstraction, of imagery also resonated with the meticulous craft of Persian embroidery, which Moshiri noted were popular household wall decorations. It was only a matter of time, with the help of a German gallerist based in Rome, before the fusion of his US-based fascinations with historied Iranian techniques emerged and he began “interfering” with the process, forming his “found people” period. Starting with small tapestries and working his way towards full embracement of a kitsch aesthetic – his tableaux feature Western iconography depicted with glittering, crystal-laden Persian-influenced ornamentation – Moshiri’s straightforward aesthetics have layered connotations. While in Europe or the US it may be contextualised through Warhol, Polke or even Richter, considering the source material is often photography, in the Middle East, the works may have readings that hark back to traditional craftsmanship, in the sense that the materiality and formal techniques constituting the picture take precedence over the image.

Close-Up offers a concise opportunity for viewers to contemplate material, content and historical elements, culminating in First Snow. Another fresh step for Moshiri in that he is using his own photography as source material for the first time, an immaculate snowy landscape in Lavasan produced photographs that were compositionally similar to Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock’s splash paintings, which while void of cultural symbols, remain highly referential of the West. Dialoguing equally with Iranian sensibilities – referencing calligraphy and embroidery through his reflective black-and-white beadwork – Moshiri’s most recent works prove the most elevated epitomisation of his cultural symbiosis to date.


Close-Up by Farhad Moshiri opens at The Third Line on Galleries Night, 19 March, for Art Week at Alserkal Avenue.
Images courtesy of the artist and The Third Line.

Baldessari’s method of collecting and reproducing imagery revealed a new approach to art – and paired with his contemporaries fascination with “second-hand art” – Moshiri soon left his tumultuous relationship with painting behind, later referring to it as a frequently visited old friend with whom he also had frequent break ups.