Parviz Tanavoli
February 10 - June 7, 2015

The Davis is proud to present Parviz Tanavoli, the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work to be mounted by a U.S museum.

Critically acclaimed and widely acknowledged as the “father of modern Iranian sculpture,” Tanavoli’s trajectory has spanned east and west as he has innovated ambitiously across media. Best known as a sculptor, his expansive oeuvre also includes painting, printmaking, ceramics, rugs, and jewelry. As well, he is a highly regarded collector, scholar, and poet.  This exhibition shares the breadth and richness of his work from the 1960s to the present.

Based in Tehran and Vancouver, Tanavoli (b.1937) was a leading influence among a generation defined by its commitment to artistic practices that are both modern and distinctly Iranian. Over decades, he has refined a complex system of symbols and motifs into a distinctive visual lexicon, fusing Persian traditions with pop sensibility. As well, his work entwines profound sensitivity to language, formal clarity, and conceptual engagement into a forcefully original artistic practice.  

Tanavoli returns again and again to the Poet, the Prophet, and the Lovers, to walls and windows, locks, and birds— figures that stand on metaphorical borders, and exist aesthetically between traditions of realism and abstraction. Among his many long-standing projects, heech—initiated in February 1965, and set to mark a fiftieth anniversary with the opening of the Davis exhibition—perhaps best exemplifies Tanavoli’s work. The artist treats the calligraphic script for “heech,” the Farsi word for “nothing” or “nothingness” to multiple expressions in three dimensions and variable materials—from delicate jewelry to polished bronze and hi-gloss fiberglass sculpture. The concept of heech, as Tanavoli explains, is abstract, philosophical, and celebratory; he says,  "Heech is not nothing. It has a body, a shape, but also a meaning behind it.”

Curated by Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro '37 Director, with Dr. Shiva Balaghi, Brown University.

Presented with generous support from The Maryam and Edward Eisler/Goldman Sachs Gives Fund on Art and Visual Culture in the Near, Middle, and Far East.


Related Events:

Film Series: Women in Modern Iranian Cinema

All screenings begin at 6:00pm in Collins Cinema.

In partnership with the Cinema and Media Studies program, the Davis presents this series of film screenings dedicated to exploring the groundbreaking achievements of women directors in modern Iranian cinema. Proportionally speaking, there have been more high profile female directors in Iran than in several Western countries, despite the hardships of women in post-Revolutionary Iran. These films range from drama to comedy and explore a broad range of topics, suspending generalizations of Iranian society and provoking curiosity. These selections highlight just a few of these critically-acclaimed films - sure to delight cinephiles, art-lovers, and everyone in-between.

Generously supported by the Davis Museum Film Program Gift.

March 4: Blackboards (2000, Dir. Samira Makhmalbaf)*

Carrying large blackboards on their backs, a group of teachers cross the mountainous paths of the remote Iranian Kurdistan region in the wake of the chemical bombing of Halabja, searching for students to teach. But as the teachers encounter one hardship after another, it seems that hunger and insecurity has not left any chance for the education of the future generations. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

March 11: The Day I Became a Woman (2000, Dir. Marziyeh Meshkini)*

Meshkini’s film tells the interconnected stories of three Iranian women struggling with their female identity at different stages in their lives. Winner of three awards at the 2000 Venice Film Festival, The Day I Became a Woman has been described as “Felliniesque” by several critics and was temporarily banned upon its release in Iran.

April 1: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)

The first Vampire Western ever made in the Farsi language, Ana Lily Amirpour's debut basks in the sheer pleasure of pulp. A joyful mash-up of genre, archetype, and iconography, its prolific influences span spaghetti westerns, graphic novels, horror films, and the Iranian New Wave. (Source: Kino Lorber)

April 15: Fifi Howls from Happiness (2013, Dir. Mitra Farahani)

Farahani’s lyrical documentary explores the enigma of provocative artist Bahman Mohassess, the so-called “Persian Picasso,” whose acclaimed paintings and sculptures dominated pre-revolutionary Iran. A lasting tribute to an elusive artistic genius, Fifi Howls from Happiness affirms the power of creative freedom, the right of the artist to create and to destroy, and above all, to have no regrets. (Source: Music Box Films)

*Special presentations in 35mm.


Art and Reality: A Symposium on Contemporary Middle Eastern Art in Context

Exploring current issues in contemporary Middle Eastern art.

Friday, April 17

Special screening of Terrance Turner’s new documentary film, Parviz Tanavoli: Poetry in Bronze.The new film from award winning director, producer, writer, and artist Terrence Turner (dir. Adele’s Wish, 2008) screens with the director in attendance. Q&A and a reception follow.

Saturday, April 18

Daylong symposium considers Tanavoli’s art and the “new” field of contemporary Middle Eastern art, questions of creative freedom and the social responsibility of artists, and matters of “soft power” in the region.

Join us for an exploration of current issues in contemporary Middle Eastern art, an area of newly heightened interest among institutions, collectors, curators, scholars, and patrons. Organized in conjunction with the groundbreaking exhibition Parviz Tanavoli, the event kicks off with a special screening of Terrance Turner’s new documentary film on the artist. A day-long symposium considers Tanavoli’s art in context and expands to the “new” field of Middle Eastern art, curatorial and cultural support structures, and the growing art market in the region.

Presented with major support from the Kathryn Wasserman Davis '28 Fund for World Cultures and Leadership.

Free and open to the public; Reservations required.

For full schedule and reservation, please click here


9:00 AM Registration, Davis Museum Lobby

9:30 AM Welcome Remarks, Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro '37 Director of the Davis, Collins Cinema

All panels take place in Collins Cinema


 9:45 AM – 11:00 AM  Resurgent: The Contemporary Visibility of Iranian Art

Shiva Balaghi is a Visiting Scholar of art history at Brown University and co-curator of the Parviz Tanavoli exhibition.

Maryam Eisler is an editor of books on contemporary art. She is an alumnus and Trustee at Wellesley College and has established the Maryam and Edward Eisler/Goldman Sachs Gives Fund on Art and Visual Culture in the Near, Middle, and Far East at the Davis Museum.  She is also a Co-Chair of the Tate Middle East North Africa Acquisitions Committee.

Lisa Fischman is Ruth Gordon Shapiro '37 Director of the Davis Museum and co-curator of the Parviz Tanavoli exhibition. 

David Galloway is Professor Emeritus at the Ruhr University Bochum and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He was the Founding Curator of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

Vali Mahlouji is a London-based curator, writer and translator.

Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT.


11:15 AM – 12:30 PM  Emergent 1: Contemporary Middle Eastern Art in the Academy and the Museums

Ladan Akbarnia is a specialist in the art of Iran and Central Asia and is Assistant Keeper of the Islamic Collections at the British Museum. 

Omar Kholeif is a curator at Whitechapel Gallery in London and Senior Editor at Ibraaz.

Vassilis Oikonomopoulos is Assistant Curator of International Art Collections at Tate Modern. He is a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art. 

Sara Raza is the Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator for the Middle East and North Africa; YARAT Head of Education; an editor at Art Asia Pacific Magazine; and a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art.

Nada Shabout is Professor and Director of Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute at the University of North Texas.


12:30 PM – 2:00 PM Lunch Break

Box lunches are available for purchase through this site.  Attendees may also seek restaurant options in easy driving distance.


2:15 PM – 3:45 PM Emergent II: Cultural and Market Infrastructures in Support of Contemporary Middle Eastern Art

Dina Amin is Senior Director, Senior Specialist of Post-War and Contemporary Art At Christie’s. 

Aaron Cezar is the founding Director of the Delfina Foundation.

Shirley Elghanian is the Founder and Chief Executive of the Magic of Persia Foundation that promotes Iranian art and culture to a wider audience outside of Iran.

Taymour Grahne is President of Taymour Grahne Gallery, founded in 2013.

Roxane Zand is Deputy Chairman, Middle East at Sotheby’s.


 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM  Soft Power: Creative Freedom, Contemporary Artists, and the Middle East

Hossein Amirsadeghi is a writer, editor and publisher who established TransGlobe Publishing.

Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller is President of Leila Heller Gallery, founded in 1982.

Moukhtar Kocache is an independent consultant with experise in philanthropy, cultural and civil society development and curatorial practice.

Marjaneh Moghimi is a film producer and founder of Butimar Productions.

Francis Ricciardone is Vice President of the Atlantic Council and Director of its Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He has served as US ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, and the Philippines.


artists' spotlight featuring:

Pouran Jinchi (New York)

Hassan Hajaj (London/ Marakesh)

Ali Banisadr (New York)

Manal AlDowayan (Dhahran, Saudi Arabia / Dubai, UAE)

5:30 PM Closing Reception, Davis Museum Lobby