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Salt desert tree
Artist leaves mark in Utah desert

By Fereydoun Hoveyda
September 25, 2000
The Iranian
Art work here

If you happen to drive toward Reno on U.S. Interstate Highway 80, across western Utah's Salt Falls Desert, in the blurred horizon you will notice a curious shivering structure . No, it is not a mirage. As you approach , the mysterious object gains focus. With its slim and long cement base topped with six variously sized and colored spheres, it evokes some kind of a giant tropical plant.

What you will be looking at is actually an 83-feet-high, tree-like sculpture weighing some 90 tons, visible for 30 miles in all directions. It stands in the middle of a barren, whitish desert of sand and salt, just east of the Nevada borde, 100 miles west of the city of Tooele. It is called "Metaphor or the Tree of Life".

The "tree" was created and donated to the State of Utah by a well-known Swedish architect and artist of Persian origin : Karl (Karim) Momen who was born and brought up near Mashhad .

Momen explained that in 1981, while driving to Reno across the Salt Flats on I-80 , he stopped for a stroll, when inspiration dawned on him: "There I saw off in the distance this image of a gigantic tree with big round spheres resembling planets." Momen has always been intrigued with astronomy. His "tree" represents, in a way, the universe which we are all a definite part .

The sculpture was unveiled in 1986 in the presence of the Governor of Utah and the Swedish Minister of Labor. The "tree" is a beautiful artistic achievemnent; a wonderful example of what members of the Iranian diaspora can create around the world when their creative freedom is not crushed and stifled by a repressive environment.


Momen studied architecture in Germany from 1958 to 1962 . At the same time he studied fine arts at Stuttgart's Kunstakademie .

In 1962 he became a Swedish citizen and worked for a number of years as an artichect . He cooperated with Le Corbusier , the world famous architect who revolutionized construction of houses .

Since the late eighties, Momen has devoted all of his time to his art (sculpture and paintings ), working part of the year in California and the remainder in Sweden. He has had many collective exhibitions (New York Metropolitan Museum, Miami Art Center, Stokholm Modern Museum, etc) as well as one-man shows (Striped House Museum in Tokyo , the Cultural Center in Berlin, and a great number of galleries in Paris , Stokholm , New York , Monaco, etc.)

As Herman Du Toit, curator of Brigham Young University Museum of Art, wrote in 1995 :

"Momen is the product of a unique synthesis of cosmopolitan influences that range from his childhood memories of miniature paintings to the seminal experience of studying under some of the most significant artists of the modernist movement in Europe His abstract images are a combination of Persian and Western perspectives ; the quest for spiritual transcendence through contemplation of ideal form , grafted with the modernist concern with formalism and the expressive intent of the artist. This confluence of modernist aesthetics and Persian spiritual currents imbue Momen's geometric abstractions with an iconic character that is echoed in their uncompromising frontality and by the metallic luster of carefully patterned brushstrokes "

In 1998 , Momen produced a series of paintings in homage to William Shakespeare and Richard Wagner, one can contemplate in a book published by "Homage to the Classics Foundation".

Click on images to see larger photos




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