In Tehran in 1961, the young Parviz Tanavoli—part of the saqqakhaneh group of artists drawing on Iranian religious and cultural imagery to create modernist, often abstract works—met art collector Abby Weed Grey, who arranged for him to serve as artist-in-residence at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design near her home in St. Paul. The two became friends, and in 1964, Grey helped Tanavoli, then teaching at the University of Tehran, set up Iran's first bronze foundry there. Grey went on to purchase 80 of Tanavoli's works, which often incorporate mixed media and found materials, and Tanavoli helped her build the collection of modern Iranian work now held at NYU's Grey Art Gallery, which she founded in 1975. The Grey now holds more of Tanavoli's work than any other institution in the world.
Widely regarded as Iran's foremost living sculptor, Tanavoli is one of the half-dozen artists featured in the Grey's exhibition "Global/Local: Six Artists From Iran," which runs through April 2, 2016. In this video, he describes the concept of the heech—a Persian word for "nothingness" and a motif that recurs in many of his well-known works.