Nicky Nodjoumi, Chasing the Butterfly, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 90 x 60 in / 243.84 x 152.4 cm
Nicky Nodjoumi: ‘Chasing the Butterfly and Other Recent Paintings’
By Holland Cotter
The new Taymour Grahne Gallery in TriBeCa couldn’t wish for a more auspicious kickoff than its excellent inaugural show of new paintings and drawings by Nicky Nodjoumi. Born in Iran in 1942, Mr. Nodjoumi arrived in New York City in the late 1960s, when he became involved in protest movements against the Pahlavi regime in his home country. The political thrust of his early work was acute, as is evident in a pair of bruise-dark 1976 pictures in “Iran Modern” at Asia Society. This is emergency art; the sound of alarms still surrounds it.
The new paintings at Taymour Grahne are political too, but the tone is different. Visually the work is light, even airy, and filled with absurdist, mocking incident. Men in suits and mullahs in robes share space with horses, apes and apparitional figures from classical Persian painting. Almost nothing feels grounded or organic: figures are composed of mismatched legs, torsos and heads, and seem unbound by perspective or gravity. Only in a series of magisterial black-and-white ink drawings does the mood tense up. In a 2012 piece called “Invasion,” figures fall as if under attack; a blindfolded man lies flat on the ground. In “The Accident,” from 2013, an interrogation is in progress against a wall of wreckage, and the drawing’s surface is sprayed with ink drops as if with bullet holes.
The artist offers fascinating insights into his working method in several small studies for paintings, made up of elements cut from newspaper clips and collaged in ways that throw off logic of placement and scale but suggest an insistently, if unlocatably, topical content. Mr. Nodjoumi, who has lived in New York City many years, is a treasure, and he’s never looked better.