Manoucher Yektai

Beloosesky Gallery is interested in purchasing paintings by Manoucher Yektai. 

Please call (917) 749-4577 or email us at info@beloosesky.com

 

Manoucher Yektai's life has brought him through three cultures: Iran, France, the United States. This trajectory can be seen as a search for Modernism, and for a participation in Modernism, indeed, for a home in it. For a painter, the itinerary seems clear in its meaning: from Iran where, under Islamic strictures about imagery, free artistic expression was not available, first (with a brief pause in New York) to the ripe ambience of the School of Paris, then (more permanently) to the fledgling excitement of the emerging New York School. But Yektai's development, seen in a larger frame, has not been entirely simple and linear. 

His trajectory through three cultures seems nomadic, and his identification with Modern New York seems an acceptance of hybridity in the post-Modernist sense; but at the same time, in a kind of artistic double life, he has been careful to maintain his rootedness directly in Persian culture. While he paints in a Modern Western style and is known as an embodiment of the idea of absolute freedom of expression as in Action Painting, still, with another part of his mind, or his heritage, he writes, in the Persian language, long poems which, while they share a sense of mysticism with Rumi, are modern free verse. These are published for an Iranian readership, partly in Iran and partly diaspora residents in the United States. 

His version of cultural hybridity is not so much shaped by different layers as by different channels: a traditional Persian poet, a Modernist American painter. In 1945, a crucial turning point in western history, Yektai, age 22, graduated from the University of Teheran. At a time when the problems of modernization and westernization had scarcely yet dawned in his homeland, he put that issue behind him by deciding at once to move to France, in search of the Modernist freedom to seek oneself through expression that the School of Paris offered. But the war was not over and Yektai waited in New York for several months, where he began studying at Ozenfant's studio on 20th Street and at the Art Student League. This unforeseen stopover, it turned out, was crucial. 

By the time he went to Paris, he had already seen the next thing that history had in store. In Paris he studied at l'Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts, feeling his way into a position in terms of Modernist stylistics that would be his own, a position that would be almost a rebirth into a new cultural personality. He focused on the palette, on paint handling, the texture of the surface, the tradition of Cezanne, Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse. After a year or so, missing the energy and sense of new options which he had felt in his brief stay in New York, he moved back. This was 1947, the pivotal year in the emergence of the New York School. The full post-war force of the American sublime was about to be released. 

It was in 1947 that Pollock produced his first dripped or Action Painted works in Duco and aluminum, Cathedral and Full Fathom Five. In the same year Barnett Newman produced his breakthrough painting, Onement I, the first work with the zip. Landing in the middle of this bubbling ferment, Yektai resumed his studies both at Ozenfant's and at the Art Student's League, and had his first shows in 1948 and 49 at Woodstock. There he met Milton Avery, who introduced him to the gallerist Grace Borgenicht.

At this point Yektai was only 25 years old, yet his grasp of an individualized late Modernist style was precociously sure; following his own instincts, as well as his sure antennae for ambient shifts in the wind, he was developing a pictorial sense that later would be compared to the investigation that Hans Hoffman was engaged in at the same time. By 1951 Yektai was exhibiting at the Grace Borgenicht gallery, where Joan Mitchell and Milton Avery were showing and where he held annual shows for three years that were classic in the clarity of their definition of the early New York School- or what would come to be called Abstract-Expressionism. These works involved heavy painterly impasto* with emphasis on the physical presence of the paint-mass and a combination of dim or receding representation with an underlying grid-related abstraction. 

In 1951 and 1952 Leo Castelli brought some friends, including early Abstract-Expressionist painters, to see Yektai's Borgenicht shows, and his work entered at once, almost too easily and smoothly, into the emerging profile of Abstract-Expressionism. Castelli introduced him to the 8th Street Club in 1951, and he soon became a friend of Rothko,Tobey, Guston, and others. In the mid-1950S he was included in classic group exhibitions of early Abstract-Expressionism at the Stable Gallery and elsewhere, with slightly older artists such as DeKooning, Pollock, Newman, and Kline. From 1957 till 1965 he showed at Poindexter.

With this background it would be easy to regard Yektai as a member - almost a founding member - of the New York School. But the situation is not that simple. Whether Yektai ever was really an Abstract Expressionist is a delicate question that has arisen repeatedly in the critical discourse on his work. I suppose "really" being an Abstract Expressionist could only mean that one regarded oneself as such and one's peers also regarded one as such. Yektai's peers seem to have felt sure - but it is not altogether clear that Yektai himself unequivocally regarded his work in that way. Certainly the surface configuration of his paintings in this period fits easily enough into the category. But there is a distinction at a deeper level, having to do with the philosophical premises of the work. 

Though the classic Abstract-Expressionists were not all of one mind, still, under the influence of their great critics, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, they have been made to seem so. Certain statements have come to characterize the spirituality of the group as a whole, such as Newman's famous declaration, in Tiger's Eye, 1948, that "man's natural desire in the arts [is] to express his relation to the Absolute." It seems clear that Newman, Gottlieb, deKooning, Rothko, and other key members of this art historical group cultivated the ambition of exalted terror more than that of the celebration of beauty, which may be said to have been the central force of the School of Paris. The Olympian gaze of what Rosenberg would call the "abstract sublime" is embodied in Newman's lofty proclamation that "the impulse of modern art was this desire to destroy beauty."

Yektai's work reflects a somewhat different philosophy. The metaphysical absolutism that attracted what Rosenberg called the theological branch of Abstract-Expressionism did not attract him. His natural approach combined the celebration of the beautiful with something of the painting-of-everyday-life approach. Far from seeing himself as a destroyer of beauty, Yektai believes in the dignity of human life and celebrates the beauty of the forms it transpires among. 

In discussing Yektai's work of the early 1950S John Ashbery contrasted its" opulent sobriety" with the "heroicism" of such as Pollock.  Yektai himself never thought that he was an Abstract- Expressionist, though when Castelli brought some of his painters to the Borgenicht show in 1951 they immediately affirmed him as such, and so did the critics: a reviewer in Arts magazine in 1957, for example, wrote: "Yektai is in the Abstract Expressionist school, not as an undergraduate, but as a member of the faculty."

In fact, Yektai himself always knew that, as he says, "I was a figurative painter." It was his insistence on the value of figuration that pointed to the underlying philosophical difference. He was not seeking the sublime to the exclusion of the beautiful.

It was at or just before the moment when Greenberg's ideas about painting peaked in their influence on the New York School that Yektai arrived in New York. The fact that this influence would before long come to feel like a tyranny was not yet apparent. The cultural atmosphere in New York felt exhilaratingly freer and more exciting than in Paris, where the death of a School was in the air rather than the enthusiastic youth of one. 

Yektai's initial response to finding himself suddenly in the overheated atmosphere of the 10th Street School was to feel at once, with a deep pull of recognition, the seduction of abstraction, and to allow himself to be rushed along in that direction. It is from this moment that the still life/ abstractions of 1951- 19 54 emerged. Still, his residual School of Paris ornamental representationalism did not vanish. 

For years Manoucher Yektai worked with his delicately balanced combinations of abstraction and representation. In his attempt to highlight the virtues of both the world-affirming School of Paris representationalism and the paint-as-presence mysticism of New York School reductionism, Yektai has been compared by critics to Nicholas deStael, Richard Diebenkorn, Elaine deKooning, Frank Auerbach, Henri Matisse, Hans Hoffman, Leon Kossof, Asger Jorn, Karl Appel, Pierre Bonnard, and others. 

The dream of the sublime ended with the early period of the Cold War - that is, around 1960, when the threat of nuclear annihilation, and with it the spirituality of the bomb shelter, gave way to the internal inspection of social issues which culminated in the 60S liberation movements. 

When the moment of the sublime, with its terror and exaltation, passed, artists returned their attention to everyday things. Abstract-Expressionism faded into the emerging post-Modernist succession of minischools - Pop, Op, and Conceptualism. Yektai's special background led him to follow his own trajectory, as before. He neither dove into the waves of mini-movements nor continued to repeat the Abstract-Expressionist thematics. Rather, he patiently made a life's work of his own still-developing synthesis of figuration and abstraction, or, you might say, of elements of the Schools of Paris and New York. 

Manoucher Yektai's trajectory through cultures has led him first to claim and earn a home inside - to claim and earn through the act if painting - finally, to feel at home enough in the world he has discovered and adapted for himself through paint to need no closure around it: he has worked, patiently and long, with the work of the artist, to conquer a world for himself and make it a home. 

 

Excerpts of "Manoucher Yektai",  writing by Thomas McEvilley.


Biography from the Archives of AskART

 

 

Manoucher has many works in American and European collections and museums, especially in the Museum of Modern Art of New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, SFMOMA, and in numerous private collections such as the Poindexter collection.
 

 

Selected Solo Exhibitions

1949: Woodstock, New York
1951, 1952, 1953: Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Inc., New York City
1956: American Associated Artists, NYC
1957, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1964: Poindexter Gallery, NYC
1959: Felix Landau Gallery Los Angeles, California
1960,1961, 1963, 1965: Semia Huber Gallery, Zürich, Switzerland
1962: Anderson Meyer Gallery, Paris; Feingarten Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
1961, 1962, 1964, 1970: Picadilly Gallery, London, England
1965, 1966, (67: Gertrude Kasle Gallery, Detroit, Michigan
1966. 1967, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1984, 1996: Elaine Benson Gallery, Bridgehampton, New York
1977, 1978: Galerie Zand, Teheran, Iran
1981, 1984: Alex Rosenberg Gallery, NYC
1988: Paris - New York: Kent Fine Art, Kent, Connecticut