Through her provocative, often pastel-coloured cartoonish paintings and her stop-motion animations depicting eerie spaces and groups of men engaged in fictitious erotic rituals, Tala Madani subverts gender roles, reimagines sexual identity and visualises psychological unease. Her artwork is playful, perverse and shows no restraint in depicting baseless desires and primitive forms of the human body.
Born in Tehran in 1981, Madani moved to western Oregon at the age of 15, going on to graduate with a BFA from Oregon State University in 2004, and with an MFA from Yale University School in 2006. In 2007, she presented her debut exhibition at Lombard-Freid Projects Gallery, New York, which featured her now-popular 'cake paintings'—a series in which half-naked men prance in and around pink, gooey birthday cakes.
In a profile published in The New Yorker, Mandani's exploration of the secretive behaviour of men and their daily habits is traced back to trips she took with her Grandfather to Tehran's Mellat Park, where she would watch her grandfather and other men chat with one another. Yet the men in Mandani's paintings and videos do not appear in public spaces, but instead are caught in seemingly private acts that are often sexually explicit. In Enema up the ladder (2012), for example, one man is depicted giving another an enema and in Morris Men with Piss Stain (2013), a group of smiling figures bask in their own bodily fluids. There is also a continuous sense of machismo and childlike curiosity in Madani's work—an exploration of desire that often becomes violent. For instance, in the stop-motion video Sex Ed by God (2017), a floating pair of pink lips gives lessons on how best to perform cunnilingus to an audience of a clapping boy and a mumbling man, alongside a projected image of a girl. After a minute and a half, the girl eventually reaches out of the frame, grabs the two figures and stuffs them neatly into her vagina.
Using garish and cartoonish elements in her work, often depicting exaggerated genitals and damaged or disembodied body parts, her work has resulted in comparisons to artists such as Mike Kelley, Philip Guston and Sue Williams. For example, in O (2012), Madani depicts a man sitting on a chair, smiling as he strokes his oversized ejaculating penis, which, arched over his head, appears threatening. Similarly, in The Gift (2015), she paints a sheepish boy-like figure in a backlit doorway, his penis splayed out on the floor in front of him and taking up almost a third of the composition while an impossibly sized penis almost fills the canvas in Son Down (2015), dwarfing the three figures of the composition.
Madani has shown at the Liverpool Biennial (2010), Venice Biennale (2011), Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (2013), Marrakech Biennale (2014), Taipei Biennial (2014), and the Whitney Biennial in New York (2017), and has work held in numerous public and private collections.
Select exhibitions include ASS•AS•SIN: hashish anyone?, Lombard-Freid Projects, New York (2008); Greater New York, MoMA PS1, New York (2010); The Jinn, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (2011); Rip Image, Moderna Museet, Malmö and Stockholm (2013); Abstract Pussy, Pilar Corrias Gallery, London (2014); Tala Madani, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville (2014); Get Rid of Yourself: America is Hard to See, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015); Smiley has no nose, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2015); First Light, Contemporary Art Museum St Louis (2016); Shitty Disco, Pilar Corrias Gallery, London (2016); Tala Madani, La Panacée, Montpellier (2017).
In 2012 Madani was awarded the Volkskrant Art Award, and in 2013 she received the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Contemporary Painting. In 2007 she was the artist in residence at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam, and she held the Abbey Painting Fellowship of the British School at Rome in 2010.
Madani lives and works in Los Angeles.
On November 1, 2017, The Museum of Contemporary Art held a luncheon honoring Lillian Lovelace and Tala Madani. Lovelace and Madani were celebrated for their extraordinary talents and contributions to the arts.
This year sees Frieze New York host its sixth edition at Randall’s Island Park from 5 to 7 May. A collection of ambitious presentations from leading international contemporary and 20th century art galleries will be joined by curated sections showcasing emerging artists, site-specific artist commissions and a talks series. Supported by lead partner...
Recently, the Iranian-American artist Tala Madani was sitting in her studio in Los Angeles, tweaking a video in progress. It featured a young girl wearing a bow in her hair and a yellow-gold cardigan, her legs akimbo in a pose that conjured Courbet's "The Origin of the World."
In one of the strongest protests yet by a major cultural institution against President Trump's executive order on immigration, the Museum of Modern Art has rehung part of its permanent collection with works by artists from some of the majority-Muslim nations whose citizens are blocked from entering the United States.