Multicultural Modernism
Art & Antiques Magazine, September 2019

By Chris Shields

From September 10 through December 7, the Grey Art Gallery at New York University is presenting a far-reaching view of modernism, one that extends beyond the popular Eurocentric view of 20th century art. In “Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection,” each country will be represented by 30 to 40 works drawn from this invaluable collection, which represents one of the largest institutional holdings of fine art from these countries. Its cache of Indian modern art ranks as one of the foremost holdings by an American university museum.

The collection was assembled by its namesake, Abby Weed Grey, a native Minnesotan who subscribed to a “one world through art” philosophy. In Grey’s view, works of art could foster cross-cultural dialogue. Her focus on modern work evinces a desire not to flatten cultural differences but instead to comprehend the contemporary world through a multiplicity of cultural, national, and individual artistic perspectives. In 1975, after years of travel and acquisition, Grey donated her collection to NYU.

The gallery has exhibited works from the Grey collection before. Previous shows have largely stayed within the boundaries of national identity, particularly Iranian. With “Modernisms,” however, the gallery is creating a more expressly cross-cultural dialogue within its walls. Modern works from Iran, Turkey, and India will hang side by side, evoking in real space Grey’s original mission. Along with facilitating this dialogic end, the show also hopes to serve as a corrective to long-held Eurocentric views on modernism. By presenting the modern work of three culturally distinct countries, modernism is reinterpreted not as a particular, localized (Western) cultural event, but, in Grey’s words, as a “response of a contemporary sensibility to contemporary circumstances.” Through this lens, modernism becomes a much more fluid effect of responsiveness to the contemporary world, no matter where or how it may occur.

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