Estimate: 280,000 — 380,000 GBP, LOT SOLD. 584,750 GBP (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
Due to the significance and importance of his oeuvre in the scope of art history, the works of Bahman Mohasses have been highly coveted by discerning collectors and museums; the man himself, however, has been shrouded in mystery as a result of his life-long seclusion. Mohasses—who referred to himself as a figurative expressionist—hails from a generation of visionary avant-garde artists who never received the recognition they deserved. Many of these significant artists, such as Behjat Sadr, are no longer living. Mohasses’ work was seminal to the complex culture of the 1960s and continues to be highly relevant today.
Descended from the Mongolian dynasty on his father’s side, and the Qajar dynasty on his mother’s side, Mohasses was born on March 1, 1931, in Rasht, a city south of the Caspian Sea. He left Iran after the coup against Mosaddegh, settled in Rome in 1954, and was one of the first Iranian students to attend the Art Academy of Rome, where he studied painting and sculpture. His paintings were exhibited at the Paris, Sao Paulo, and Venice Biennials. His first solo exhibition took place at the prestigious Marco Gallery in Rome. He was also commissioned important works for public squares in Tehran by Reza Shah Pahlavi and the Empress Farah Diba, most of them being taken down after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. For many years, Mohasses lived and worked between Italy and Iran. However, like many other artists, his work was suppressed after the Revolution. A great number of his paintings and sculptures were confiscated, looted, or destroyed. In 2006, after his brother passed away, Mohasses left Tehran for good. Before he left, his disappointment with his native country led him to destroy a lot of the works that remained in his studio there.
Portrait of Bahman Mohasses / Courtesy of Ab/Anbar Gallery, Tehran
Requiem Omnibus is Bahman Mohasses' monumental ode to the death of the activist Martin Luther King. As an artist, he injected the DNA of his solitary, anguished genius into works that he created on the occasion of major socio-political events that moved him. Similar to In Memory of the My Lai Vietnam War Massacre, Requiem Omnibus refers to a seismic event which invoked in him an outpouring of his 'figurative expressionism', portraying a tragic vision and a complex configuration. Mohasses drew upon legendary, mythical, sometimes monstrous figures to delve into twentieth century modernistic preoccupations in his own unique voice. Unlike other artists who chose pure abstraction, he preferred truncating tortured human figures - headless, armless, tied and twisted in Gordian knots - into a quasi-abstraction. In Requiem Omnibus we see these figures wrestling and in some kind of a sexual grip.
Mohasses was often torn between his own very specific perceptions and those of the ongoing development of European modernism that he was exposed to, from the Surrealists, to Giacometti, to Henry Moore, and even Renaissance art. In this particular work however, there is reference to Giorgio Morandi, whom he much admired, and especially to his use of impasto and a rigid perspective. There is also a classicist approach in his depiction of the twisted, knotted figures combating each other as if locked in a deadly embrace which harks to the mythological battles of Greek and Roman Gods represented in the art of the Renaissance. He identifies more with 'existential atheism' as he called it, than the Shi'ism of his own heritage; his sense of identity - despite being part of the Group of Five (Panj) alongside Sohrab Sepehri, Abolghassem Saidi, Parviz Tanavoli and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, is more akin to Pablo Picasso’s. Rather than references to Persian folkloric motifs, calligraphy, Sufism or desert landscapes, he dives into themes that address the most profound aspects of the human condition. In this, more than any other Iranian artist, he has transcended his nationality, being more obsessed with "Condemnation of the Being", and the "tragic condition of modern man".
Evolving light years from the stylised realism of the Kamal al Mulk school of painting, Mohasses managed to transcend his humble beginnings in Rasht under a local art teacher, into a complex journey embodying Italian influences - particularly in his palette - and the formulation of a visual language and mythology all of his own. As Barthes has said, "myth in its most basic form is a special type of speech...a traditional narrative involving supernatural or imaginary persons and embodying, popular ideas on social phenomena." In this highly personal narrative, Mohasses developed an aesthetic and mythology born of mutilated, 'sculpted' figures with an almost tangible volume yet imprisoned and boxed into canvases that barely contain them. In Requiem Omnibus we see his twisted, tortured figural compositions at its best; a tangle of wrestling limbs and torsos in seemingly sexual positions but without resolution. The lower figure in darker tone refers to the protagonist, being devoured - or mourned over, depending on the eye of the observer - by an amorphous beast with many symbolic undertones. The 'sanded' effect the artist achieves using flat, wide brushes brings a superbly rock-like, grainy texture to the canvas, and his 'assemblage corporel' - a pastiche of disembodied limbs referencing Minotaurs, beasts and monsters provoke many interpretations.
A powerful, proud, unconventional and enigmatic artist who despite some recognition and close support from Empress Farah Pahlavi felt misunderstood, Mohasses considered himself an artist who was ahead of his time. Requiem Omnibus is a rare and unique example of the artist's best work from the 1960s where affected not just by Martin Luther King's death but also by the socio-political events of 1968 in France and across the world, he began to experiment with increasingly amputated creatures and mise-en-scenes to express his anguish and harsh disenchantment with man's ability to be anything other than condemned. Heavily informed by Francis Bacon’s anthropomorphic figures, Mohasses paintings from the late 1960s are reminiscent of his masterwork Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants from 1968 which was painted the same year as Requiem Omnibus and is now in the permanent collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran. Mohasses like Bacon did not make "art for the mantelpiece" as he called it; his works are instead reflections of his dark genius, echoing the mind of Iran's protagonist in an avant-garde modernism. Sotheby's is honoured to present this historical, rare and iconic work which is undoubtedly an essential addition to any collection of this great artist’s works."
I never meant to become integrated. I always disliked to be labeled as "artist". I consider myself a craftsman. I never felt I belonged to any place, any country, any people, even less Iranian. I consciously destroyed the works that remained for they had become useless and I would never leave anything for the necrophilic. After all, what is the point of painting a world where a sky is without birds, a sea without fishes and a wood without wild beasts."
This text is Honorably extracted from sothebys.com by Hoomartgallery.com.