Gallery Glance: “Nicky Nodjoumi: The Long Day” at H&R Block Artspace

The problem was choosing.

In early November, Block Artspace director and curator Raechell Smith surrounded herself with color printouts of the paintings of Iranian-born, Brooklyn-based painter Nicky Nodjoumi, trying to decide which ones she would include in the artist’s one-person show at Block Artspace.

With their figurative imagery and complex layered meanings delivered at large scale, Smith was enthralled by all of them. “The paintings felt both timely and timeless, but they also felt really urgent,” she said in a recent email, “and chiefly concerned about the implications and the chaotic and destructive — or corruptive — possibilities of power, especially when it goes unchecked or unchallenged.”

For the exhibit “Nicky Nodjoumi: The Long Day,” Smith ended up selecting 21 works, including drawings, lithographs and paintings dating from 2014 to 2018. Works on view will include the 8 by 5 foot painting, “Men descending the stairs” (2015), showing a group of men in business suits and masks holding long poles as they descend a staircase occupied by a little dog.

With their undertones of violence and allusions to the corruption of power, the works are creepy and enigmatic, drawing on classical Persian painting as well as contemporary Western figurative painting.

At age 76, Nodjoumi has amassed a lot of fodder for his commentary, in both Iran, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts at Tehran University of Fine Arts and later taught, and the U.S., where he received a Master of Fine Arts from The City College of New York in 1974.

“The problem is people. When they come into power, no matter what, they do bad things.” Nodjoumi said in an interview with “The American Reader.” In keeping with this reading, his portrayals of human foibles are cryptic and ambiguous, steering away from specific countries and regimes.

Over the past five years, Nodjoumi has racked up show after show, including a 2014 solo exhibition at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Next fall, have he will have a one-person exhibition in London with Taymour Grahne gallery, which has also shown the artist’s work in New York.

His exhibit at Block Artspace is very much of the moment: “Nodjoumi’s willingness to question the advisability and trustworthiness of male-centered power and authority has been an undercurrent of his work for many years,” Smith observed, “and it seems like we’re finally catching up.”

“Nicky Nodjoumi: The Long Day” opens Jan. 25 with a reception for Nodjoumi from 6 to 9 p.m. and continues through March 16 at the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, 16 W. 43rd St. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday. For more information, 816.561.5563 or www.kcai.edu/artspace. Check the website for exhibition-related events.

Above: “Men descending the stairs” (detail, 2015), an oil on canvas painting by Nicky Nodjoumi, is part of the Iranian-born artist’s exhibit, “Nicky Nodjoumi: The Long Day,” opening Jan. 25 at H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute. (courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Art Limited, London)

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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