A transparent mural by conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, minimalist art by Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd, and works by packaging artist Christo are just some of more than 130 works by 34 Western artists world famous which currently have Iranians flocking to Tehran. Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition has welcomed around 20,000 visitors since its opening in June, twice as many as previous exhibitions at the site.
“The reception was wonderful,” said museum director Ebadreza Eslami. Speaking to AFP news agency, he attributed the great interest to the fact that 38 masterpieces from the “Minimalism and Conceptual Art” exhibition are on display for the first time. Museum spokesperson Hasan Noferesti added that it is simply exciting to see long-hidden modern masterpieces.
Artworks are exhibited in Iran for the first time in decades
Presenting Western works to the public is not obvious in the Islamic Republic. Shiite President Ebrahim Raisi, a devout cleric, regularly outrages Western influence. Local artists who stray from Iran’s “revolutionary culture” face severe penalties. Western contemporary art has long been locked away, including the collection now on display.
Largest collection of modern art outside of the United States and Europe
It was established in the 1970s by Farah Diba Pahlavi, the wife of Shah Reza Pahlavi. Worth millions, the collection is considered legendary. It is also the largest modernist collection outside of Europe and the United States.
A woman observes a work by American artist Sol LeWitt
In 2017, the former empress told DW that she discovered various Iranian painters and sculptors during the biennial organized by the Iranian Ministry of Culture in the early 1960s, which gave her the idea for an art museum. contemporary in Tehran. The collection was also to include Western works of art. And why not, she argued – “the whole world also has our art in its museums”.
When the museum opened in 1977, works by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Claude Monet, Paul Jackson Pollock, Rene Magritte and other big names hung on the walls alongside paintings by local artists.
Removed for depicting “western depravity”
Just two years later, the Islamic Revolution swept the Shah from the throne. The new head of state, Ayatollah Khomeini, lamented the moral and sexual depravity of the West, which he said had infected the Islamic world. Considered “un-Islamic” and “corrupt”, the Western art collection was transferred to the museum’s depot.
34 Western artists are exhibited
Farah Diba remembers that she was very worried at the beginning about the fate of the works of art, and that they could even be destroyed. “Fortunately, the collection is still relatively complete – except for a portrait of me by Andy Warhol which was in the museum lobby. It has been completely destroyed, as have some sculptures by sculptor Bahman Mohasses.”
Back in the spotlight
For a long time, the collection slept in the museum deposit. Few works were exhibited in the West, until they gradually reappeared in 2005, during the political thaw in Iran, including paintings by Andy Warhol, Vincent van Gogh, Jack Pollock and other Western artists. The nudes, however, remained hidden in the basement.
A Glimpse of Andy Warhol’s Work: Portrait of Marilyn Monroe
Young Iranians in particular show great interest in international art, often using social media. The fact that works for so long under lock and key are now on display encourages some to go and see the exhibition more than once.
“To put on a show with such a theme and such works is a daring step which requires a lot of courage”, declared Babak Bahari, who went four times to marvel at the works. “Even in the West, these works are at the heart of discussion and dialogue,” he said. The Guardian newspaper.
This article was originally written in German.