Art History Professor Opens Door for Global Art History

 When Professor Talinn Grigor was a graduate student, no one would give her “five cents to do research in Iran.” That’s changed. Now Iranian art is “sexy” and the market for Iranian art, both inside and outside the country, has exploded.

Although trained as an architect and architectural historian, Grigor is author of one of the few books on Iranian art since the 1979 revolution, Contemporary Iranian Art: From the Street to the Studio (Reaktion Books Ltd., 2014).

“The publisher came to me and said ‘Iranian art is a hot topic; why don’t you write a book about it?’” said Grigor, who joined the Department of Art and Art History last year. Funding has changed too—in 2014 she received a $20,000 grant from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute for her research.

Talinn Grigor
Talinn Grigor

Her other books are more in keeping with her architectural background: Building Iran: Modernism, Architecture and National Heritage under the Pahlavi Monarchs (2009) and Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of Power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis (2015.)

In Contemporary Iranian Art, Grigor examines official state art, artists working independently and often in secret in Iran, and artists outside Iran, including those who left during the Shah’s regime and others who emigrated after the revolution.

“Iran has a well-educated middle class going to galleries and buying art, which is a form of resistance, a political stance,” Grigor said.

Her studies of architecture explore how the Pahlavi regime (starting in 1925 when the first 20th century shah came to power) melded ancient and medieval Persia with modern Western-facing approaches to create a building program that also functioned as nation building.  

Grigor studied architecture at the University of Southern California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and earned a doctorate in architectural history from MIT.  Although she is a native of Iran, she says, “I’m an art historian—that’s my identity.” 

Her goal as a professor and scholar is to change art history from a Western discipline that gives only token attention to other areas of the world. She’s doing that in part through classes on understanding visual culture, art and violence, architecture and sexuality, and post-colonial aesthetics (which will be the first class taught at the new Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art opening in the fall.) 

“We need to talk seriously about what global art really is, how to write global art history,” she said, “and to really rethink how we do art history to address global issues.”

Learn more about Grigor’s research.

Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science