Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection
I almost missed seeing the Grey Art Gallery’s (NYU) powerful exhibit of contemporary Iranian, Indian, and Turkish art, from the 1960s and 1970s. With only two days to go (it closes on December 7th), I popped into the gallery, gravitating almost immediately to three etchings by Krishna Reddy, an artist and SoHo neighbor who lived in 80 Wooster Street. I interviewed Reddy and his artist wife Judy Blum Reddy for the book, Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of SoHo that I co-authored with Shael Shapiro.
The last time that I was in Reddy’s loft was at a poignant memorial service for him that was held there in early October, 2018. His daughter Apu spoke movingly of her father and of his passion for life and art, a passion that was apparent every time we stopped to chat on Wooster Street.
Reddy (1925–2018) became interested in printmaking at Santiniketan, outside Calcutta. Reddy studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, following the recommendation of Abanindranath Tagore and subsequently traveled to Paris where he worked at Atelier 17. Bulging Tuatara (c. 1953) and Seed Pushing (1961), both works from his Paris years, speak to a certain organic quality or feeling of growth in his work. The third Reddy etching in the show, Many and the One (1971) shows us an abstract line of nine female figures on the left, separated from a single, dominant female figure on the right. Is the figure on the right, we ask ourselves, somehow the chosen one?
Elsewhere in the exhibit there are many haunting images including two powerful Self Portraits by the Turkish artist Nevin Islek from 1965. One is bright red, an oil and sand work on paper mounted on Masonite with a long nose connected to an even longer mouth. The second is a watercolor on paper, with half the head in shadow. Both are serious, intense works where the eyes stare out at us, dark and definite.
Serious, that is a good word for the art in this exhibit. Intricate, that is another. This is particularly true of the work of Iranian artist Siah Armajani, whose Print Apple 2 (1967), a computerized print and Sealed Letter (1964), acrylic, ink, string, and sealing wax on paper, force the viewer to confront complicated calligraphic notations, to read illegible words, and to somehow separate black from red.
There are now some 700 works in the Abby Weed Grey Collection of Modern Asian and Middle Eastern Art. It is a remarkable collection, one that according to Grey Art Gallery Director Lynn Gumpert, not only reflects Abby Weed Grey’s superb taste but one that also reveals her mindset as an archivist: “[Grey] meticulously maintained files and records for the Grey Foundation and kept and filed receipts, brochures, and catalogues, along with photographs, press clippings, and other materials collected during her travels,” wrote Gumpert in an essay in the exhibition catalogue. “Given the paucity of 20th-century archives in Iran, Turkey, and India, these materials — today housed in the New York University Archives — provide a treasure trove for scholars eager to consult primary sources.”