Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign
Oct 6 2019
Feb 16 2020
The Queens Museum is pleased to present Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign, organized by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH). Nicolas Moufarrege (1947-1985) was an artist and writer born to Lebanese parents in Alexandria, Egypt and raised in Beirut. During a career that lasted just over a decade, he created an original and idiosyncratic body of embroidered paintings made in Beirut; Paris, France; and New York City. Recognize My Sign—the artist’s first solo museum exhibition—traces the development of his work from the lap-scaled portrait-tapestries he began making in the early 1970s to the final works he created while living in New York between 1980 and 1985. This exhibition offers an opportunity to rediscover the materially and conceptually compelling work of a singular creative force whose output is remarkably relevant and resonant today. Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign is organized by CAMH Curator Dean Daderko and coordinated by Queens Museum curator Larissa Harris.
Moufarrege borrowed images from a broad and vast sourcebook; his embroidered paintings mix references from Classical sculptures and Baroque paintings with comic book heroes, Islamic tilework designs, Pop Art, and Arabic calligraphy. By playfully mixing Eastern and Western references, fiction and reality, and personal and historical registers, Moufarrege’s work uses art and art history as vehicles to engage a more personal narrative.
Including nearly 40 tapestries and embroidered paintings, as well as drawings, photographs, and primary documents, Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign traces the effects the artist’s relocations had on the development of his oeuvre. Moufarrege’s artwork draws from his experiences—including references to war, migration, and his identity as a gay man—yet it far exceeds these boundaries, offering myriad ways to approach contemporary painting, figuration, craft, transnational identity, desire, and queer life.
Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign is accompanied by a 64-page, full-color, fully-illustrated catalogue designed by NUU Group and published by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. It includes essays by Curator Dean Daderko and writer and critic Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, and a translation of a 1973 interview between Moufarrege and the artist and writer Etel Adnan.
About the Artist
Nicolas Abdallah Moufarrege (1947–1985) was an artist, critic, and curator born in Alexandria, Egypt to Lebanese parents. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon in 1965 and 1968, respectively. In 1968 he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts on a Fulbright Grant and a Harvard University assistantship; it is during this time that he decided to pursue a career in the arts. He returned to Beirut and had his first solo exhibition of tapestries at Triad Condas Gallery in 1973.
With the onset of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, Moufarrege relocated from Beirut to Paris, France. During this period, his work was included in exhibitions at Mathaf Gallery, London, England (1976); Gallery Kamp, Amsterdam, Netherlands (1977); George Zeeny Gallery, Beirut (1979); and Galeries de Varenne/Jacques Damase, Paris (1980).
In 1981, Moufarrege moved to New York City where he became a central figure in the burgeoning East Village arts scene. His writing for the New York Native, Arts Magazine, Flash Arts, and Artforum is credited with bringing early attention to galleries including FUN Gallery, Gracie Mansion, Civilian Warfare, and Nature Morte, and to artists and friends including Greer Lankton, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, and David Wojnarowicz. From 1982-84, Moufarrege received a studio through the International Studio Program at PS1, the Institute for Art and Urban Resources (now MoMA PS1), where he mounted two studio exhibitions, The New York Times Front Page (1982) and A Flag for the ‘80s (1983). Moufarrege had two solo exhibitions in New York: On Pins and Needles at Gabrielle Bryers Gallery (1983) and at FUN Gallery (1985). Moufarrege also curated the exhibitions Intoxication (1983) and Ecstasy (1984) at Monique Knowlton Gallery in New York.
In 1985, Moufarrege passed away at age 37 from AIDS-related complications. He is survived by his sister Gulnar “Nouna” Mufarrij, his brother Nabil Moufarrej, and his family in Shreveport, Louisiana.
In 1987, Tim Greathouse, Cynthia Kuebel, Elaine Reichek, and Bill Stelling organized a memorial exhibition of Moufarrege’s work at the Clocktower, the Institute for Art and Urban Resources, founded by Alanna Heiss. Since then, Moufarrege’s work has been included in The Downtown Show (2006), curated by Carlo McCormick in consultation with Lynn Gumpert and Marvin J. Taylor at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, and SIDE X SIDE (2008), curated by Dean Daderko for Visual AIDS at La MaMa La Galleria.
Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign is organized by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and curated by CAMH Curator Dean Daderko. CAMH’s presentation was generously supported by Nabil and Hanan Moufarrej and Khaled Salem.
Images in order of appearance: Nicolas Moufarrege, The Fifth Day, 1980. Thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas. 51 x 64 inches. Collection George Waterman III. Title unknown, 1984-85. Thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas. Courtesy Nabil Moufarrej and Gulnar “Nouna” Mufarrij. Music, 1985. Thread, pre-printed needlepoint canvas, fabric, and needlepoint canvas (two pieces). Collection Tim Cone, Washington, DC
Exhibitions at the Queens Museum receive significant support from Ford Foundation. Major funding for the Queens Museum is generously provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Lambent Foundation, Booth Ferris Foundation, and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.