Tiger of the Week: Steven Naifeh ’74

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In May 1974, PAW’s cover featured a detail from a painting by Steven Naifeh ’74, a talented undergraduate whose work was then on display in the main studio of McCormick Hall. A profile of the young artist highlighted his atypical background — the son of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, he spent most of his childhood in the Middle East and Africa — as well as his diverse interests, noting that while Naifeh was planning to go to Harvard Law School, he had “not yet completely ruled out further study in art.” 

Nearly four decades later, Naifeh’s work is again in the spotlight, this time in a retrospective exhibition of paintings and sculpture at the Columbia (S.C.) Museum of Art that opened in May and runs through Sept. 1. But the intervening years have included success in other fields as well. Naifeh did graduate from Harvard Law School, and he later earned a Ph.D. in art. With his partner, Gregory White Smith, he has written notable biographies of Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock, winning a Pulitzer Prize for the latter. 

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The new Naifeh exhibition, titled “Found in Translation,” includes 26 large-scale pieces, many of which employ the geometric, modular style that he honed as an undergraduate. In an interview with curator Will South, published in the exhibition catalogue, Naifeh said that his work is partly inspired by his early exposure to Arab and Islamic artistic traditions. “I was very much an American kid. … But I still lived in those cultures and not apart from them,” he said. “We weren’t holed up in guarded enclaves. There were no ‘Green Zones.’ So indigenous art was everywhere around me all the time.”

Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.

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