Seminal Iranian artist Siah Armajani, who is represented by Rossi & Rossi, passed away on August 27, 2020, at the age of eighty-one. Gallery owner Fabio Rossi reflects on the artist in a personal message below.
I first met Siah about eleven years ago at his last show at Max Protetch Gallery, New York, and was deeply impressed with his work. Four years later, in 2013, Parasol unit in London held a retrospective for him. Afterwards, our mutual friend Josie Browne suggested that I exhibit some of his works in my gallery space.
When I opened Rossi & Rossi Hong Kong, I decided to introduce the local audience to the work of ground-breaking Asian artists that had never been shown in the city. Siah Armajani was one of the first names that popped into my mind.
In late 2016, I visited Siah in Minneapolis, together with Josie. He was extremely welcoming and generous with his time. A visit to his studio would always include a wonderful spread of delicacies assembled effortlessly, but with great care, by Barbara, his wife of fifty-four years. It was a fruitful meeting: Siah agreed enthusiastically to make the proposed solo exhibition in my new Hong Kong space a mini-retrospective.
The presentation materialised in February 2017 to a great response from curators, collectors, critics and the public alike. Both Siah and Barbara were very happy with how we paid homage to his career, which made me proud of our work. The mission of gallerists is, after all, to honour the artists we represent.
Whilst in Hong Kong, Siah gave a public talk, in which he completely mesmerised his audience with his profound knowledge of philosophy, history and politics. He was expansive and generous. At the end of the talk, when asked what public project he would be doing today if commissioned, he replied, without missing a beat, ‘I would build a bridge between the USA and Mexico’.
A few months later, Siah asked me to be his sole gallerist. That request was not only a great honour, but it also gave me a boost of enormous confidence in my own work.
Throughout the decades, Siah’s practice was always at the forefront of his times, experimenting with different mediums and incorporating elements ranging from science to computer programs to architecture. There were also recurrent themes in his works that harkened to his profound humanism. Visiting his retrospective at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2018 and the Met Breuer in New York in 2019, one could not but be amazed by the consistency of his output, in which there are no shortcomings.
He was active until the very end of his life, creating some of his most poignant works only in recent years. Seven Rooms of Hospitality (2016–17) is one such example. The work was inspired by a serious concern for the current global tragedy of immigrants and migrants fleeing their war-torn, poverty-stricken homes, very different from the openness he had experienced as a young exile from Iran to the United States.
Throughout our lives, we meet people who leave a deep impression on us, who become our mentors and whose friendship lasts forever. Siah is one such person to me. He was not merely an exceptional artist, but also a wonderful human being, guided by deeply felt humanistic values. Warm-hearted, kind and humorous, Siah had a sparkle in his eyes that lit up the world around him. He was always courteous, with an old-fashioned politeness that was never contrived – whether signing his emails ‘With affection’, making sure he was the last one to exit a door or attentively looking after his guests. I can still hear his voice. ‘Wonderful!’, he would exclaim, upon hearing good news. There was almost an innocence about him.
The art world will miss him tremendously. I will miss him personally. He will remain a constant presence in our lives through his work.
Siah Armajani, Written Berlin No.2, 2019–20; graphite and ink on Mylar, 91.4 x 106.7 cm (36 x 42 in); Private American Collection
Siah Armajani, Room for Deportees; 2017; metal, wood, barbed wire, mailbox, hat, purse, 244 x 305 x 111 cm (96 x 120 ¼ x 43 ¾ in)
In Memory of Siah Armajani
Shiva Balaghi, “Remembering the Great Political Art of Siah Armajani”, Hyperallergic, 16 September 2020
Holland Cotter, “Siah Armajani: Sculptor of Communal Spaces”, The New York Times, 3 September 2020
Hamid Dabashi, “Siah Armajani (1939-2020): An artist of public happiness”, Al Jazeera, 18 September 2020
Alicia Eler, “Obituary: Siah Armajani”, Star Tribune, 28 August 2020
Alex Greenberger, “Siah Armajani Obituary”, ARTnews, 28 August 2020
HG Masters,“Obituary: Siah Armajani”,ArtAsiaPacific, 28 August 2020
Victoria Sung, “A Builder in Search of A Home”, Sightlines, The Walker Art Center, 28 August 2020
“Siah Armajani (1939–2020)”, Artforum, 28 August 2020