Y.Z. Kami’s large-scale portraits recreate the visceral experience of a face-to-face encounter, suggesting a connection to the presence of each subject. Through a uniform haze or sfumato, he depicts family, friends, and anonymous strangers with eyes open or closed, gazing forward or looking down. Rendered in matte oil paint on linen, the portraits recall Byzantine frescoes or Fayum funerary portraits, continuing the art historical quest to locate the unknown and the infinite within material form. In his abstract work, Kami continues this interplay of surface and interior, using forms inspired by architecture, geometry, and poetry. In the Endless Prayers series, Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit prayers and verses are cut into rectangular fragments and pasted into mandala formations, their spiraling patterns echoing the repetitive nature of prayer. These, in turn, led to the Dome paintings. In black, white, blue, or gold, the Domes are comprised of square or rectangular marks arranged in concentric circles to create tessellated, pulsing voids—universal evocations of the passage from darkness into light. Kami has also expanded his figurative painting to include depictions of hands. The hands, often shown with palms pressed together in prayer, underscore the physical nuance of this expressive part of the body, as well as the pervasive symbolism of its gestures.
Y.Z. Kami was born in Tehran, Iran in 1956, and lives and works in New York. His work has been collected and exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; the British Museum, London; and Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London. Solo institutional exhibitions include Portraits by Y.Z. Kami, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (2003); the 52nd Biennale di Venezia (2007); Perspectives: Y.Z. Kami, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (2008); Endless Prayers, Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London (2008); Beyond Silence, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (2009–10); and Endless Prayers, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2016–17). In 2007, he participated in the 52nd Biennale di Venezia.
Y.Z. Kami: Dematerialized
In celebration of the release of the monograph Y.Z. Kami: Works 1985–2018, and in advance of an exhibition of new works by the artist at Gagosian, Rome, Ziba Ardalan and Elena Geuna sat down to discuss Y.Z. Kami’s work. The conversation was moderated by Gagosian’s Kay Pallister.
An exhibition at Gagosian, Paris, is raising funds to aid in the reconstruction of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris following the devastating fire of April 2019. Gagosian directors Serena Cattaneo Adorno and Jean-Olivier Després spoke to Jennifer Knox White about the generous response of artists and others, and what the restoration of this iconic structure means across the world.
Y.Z. Kami: Luminosities
Elena Geuna interviews the artist on the subjects of his childhood, his approach to portraiture, and the centrality of light in his practice.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019
The Summer 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher on its cover.
Y.Z. Kami: Behind the Vanishing Point
Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher, served as a crucial inspiration for Y.Z. Kami’s newest body of work. Angela Brown examines Pascal’s ideas and their relevance to these portraits and Dome paintings.
Fire and Water
Y.Z. Kami and Peter Marino discuss the power of bronze, the current state of architecture, and the infinite.
During preparations for an exhibition in London, Y.Z. Kami met with Gagosian’s Alison McDonald to discuss the evolution of his work, technique, and his combination of influences.
West Bund Art & Design 2020
November 12–15, 2020, booth A102
West Bund Art Center, Shanghai
Gagosian is pleased to participate in West Bund Art & Design 2020 with an extensive group presentation. Along with the gallery’s booth at ART021 Shanghai, on view between November 14 and 15, this will be Gagosian’s first in-person art fair since the covid-19 lockdown in March. The gallery’s participation was made possible by extraordinary support from the artists involved.
John Currin, Pistachio, 2016 © John Currin
Tuesday, February 25, 2020, 6–8pm
Y.Z. Kami will sign copies of his new monograph, Y.Z. Kami: Works 1985–2018. Copublished by Skira and Gagosian, this comprehensive monograph presents more than three hundred of Kami’s artworks in color, from his early figure studies and photographic works to his portraits, Dome paintings, sculpture, and works on paper. The publication features essays by curator and critic Robert Storr, Guardian art critic Laura Cumming, and curator Elena Geuna. To attend the free event RSVP, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited.
Y.Z. Kami, White Dome VI, 2012–13 © Y.Z. Kami
Thursday, November 7, 2019, 6:30pm
Libreria Bocca, Milan
Y.Z. Kami will sign copies of his new monograph, Y.Z. Kami: Works 1985–2018, at an event hosted by Skira. Copublished by Skira and Gagosian, this comprehensive monograph collects over three hundred of Kami’s works in color along with essays by curator and critic Robert Storr, Guardian art critic Laura Cumming, and curator Elena Geuna. The event is free and open to the public.
Y.Z. Kami signing a copy of his monograph at the Gagosian Shop, New York, 2019
Y.Z. Kami in
The Spark Is You: Parasol unit in Venice
May 9–November 23, 2019
Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello, Venice
In celebration of its fifteenth anniversary, London’s Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art presents an exhibition of works by nine contemporary Iranian artists in Venice. The Spark Is You has at its heart the need to develop mutual respect and understanding between different nations and cultures. The exhibiting artists, all of whom look beyond the ordinary, were selected for the affinity with openness, respect, and human interconnectedness presented in their practice. Work by Y.Z. Kami is included.
Y.Z. Kami, Chartres III, 2018 © Y.Z. Kami
Y.Z. Kami in
Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians
July 1–September 24, 2017
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Contemporary Iranian artists have used power, humor, mysticism, and poetry to both openly and subversively critique subjects such as gender, politics, war, religion, and spirituality. While some of the works in Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians reflect the sociopolitical tensions of the past twenty-five years, others transcend them to create all-embracing spaces free of strife. This show is traveling from the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Work by Y.Z. Kami is included.
Y.Z. Kami, Black Dome, 2015 © Y.Z. Kami
Y.Z. Kami in
Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians
February 4–June 4, 2017
Aga Khan Museum, Toronto
Contemporary Iranian artists have used power, humor, mysticism, and poetry to both openly and subversively critique subjects such as gender, politics, war, religion, and spirituality. While some of the works in Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians reflect the sociopolitical tensions of the past twenty-five years, others transcend them to create all-embracing spaces free of strife. Work by Y.Z. Kami is included.
Photo: Janet Kimber