Modern Masters from Mazandaran — at Lévy Gorvy with Rumbler, Zürich

Modern Masters from Mazandaran
Early Abstraction from Persia in Dialogue with Artists from the Gallery
Lévy Gorvy with Rumbler
Kirchgasse 50, CH-8001 Zürich
June 12 – August 29, 2020

This year’s summer exhibition at Lévy Gorvy with Rumbler presents an extraordinary grouping of early 20th-century kilims from Persia, placing them into a visual dialogue with key works by artists including Louise Bourgeois, Enrico Castellani, Donald Judd, Roman Opałka, and Gerhard Richter. On view through 31 August, the kilims in Modern Masters from Mazandaran offer new perspectives on the abstract and minimalist works by these modern masters.

A tapestry-woven carpet created by hand, the kilim has its origins in ancient Persia. Especially striking are those from Mazandaran, a province in the mountains of northern Iran, which feature bold compositions without any ornamental borders. Manifested with brilliant colors on one hand and stringently defined patterns of stripes on the other, they are reminiscent of the works of Judd, Richter, and Sean Scully. Whereas most Western artists of the 20th century were taught at art schools, the abstraction of the kilims emerged through traditional methods and the intuition of their weavers rather than academic training.

The conventional question used to evaluate any 20th-century work of art is: Who is the artist? But this question is irrelevant to evaluating these kilims from Mazandaran. The weaving techniques, patterns, and color scheme of these woven textiles were traditionally passed on from mothers to their daughters. “The women who weave the light,” as they are called, are not known by name but by style, which in turn allows a more accurate attribution to the respective villages within the Hezarjerib area of Mazandaran.

The antique kilims on display are in remarkably good condition, with their natural colors still vibrant and fresh. They were seemingly never exposed to sunlight nor used as floor coverings, instead kept in trunks and passed on from generation to generation within families, presumably as wedding gifts. The kilims speak a universal language of pattern, color, and hue: day and night, light and dark. As we admire the concentrated energy of Judd’s stack piece or a recent stripe painting by Richter, we must also look at these Persian kilims as examples of previously undiscovered minimalism and as artworks of timeless beauty.