Tehran Museum Attracts Thousands of Western Art Masterpieces

Thousands of visitors have swarmed an Iranian museum that features masterpieces of Western art in its latest exhibition, part of a treasure trove collected before the Islamic revolution.

The museum’s collection is reputed to be the largest collection of modern masterpieces outside of Europe and the United States and includes multi-million dollar pieces, many of which have been kept secret since the 1979 revolution .

Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art “surprises me every time,” said visitor Shahin Rajabi, 35. “The current exhibition is no exception.”

The current “Minimalism and Conceptual Art” exhibition features 132 works by 34 world-renowned contemporary artists, said museum director Ebadreza Eslami, including Marcel Duchamp, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd and the duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

A visitor looks at an installation by American artist Dan Flavin during the

“The reception has been wonderful,” Eslami said, especially after long closures in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said one of the main attendance factors for this exhibition was that “38 masterpieces” were on display “for the first time”.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) saw visitors to the museum this week, with some stopping to study details while others were busy snapping photos as they carefully walked through the museum.

“I loved the last room of the exhibition in particular, where the artist had worked with fluorescent light,” said visitor Rajabi, referring to the work “Untitled” by American artist Dan Flavin.

‘Very precious’

The museum was inaugurated in 1977 during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown by Islamic revolutionaries two years later.

Its design was inspired by the wind towers of the Iranian desert – an architectural feature used to capture and circulate cool air in hot environments.

The bulk of the collection was put together by the Shah’s wife, former Queen Farah Pahlavi, who deployed a team of experts to visit Western auctions and unearth prestigious paintings and sculptures to boost the cultural profile from the country.

The museum also houses an important collection of modern and contemporary Iranian art.

An installation by Bulgarian-born artist Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude, is pictured during the

A visitor looks at works by German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher during the

But the international works went underground after the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, spoke out against “westoxification”, lamenting Western moral and sexual depravity, which he said had infected the Islamic world.

The themes of many Western works have been considered too risque to be shown publicly and have spent much of the past decades languishing in storage.

The museum has some 3,500 works, hundreds of which are “very valuable”, said public relations manager Hassan Noferesti.

They include masterpieces by Western artists from Paul Gauguin to Pablo Picasso, Rene Magritte, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Alberto Giacometti, according to Iran’s Culture Ministry.

Visitors double

The current exhibition, which runs through mid-September, includes a collage by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto titled “Green Curtains” and an untitled work made from hemp by Canadian-American sculptor Jacqueline Winsor.

Curator Behrang Samadzadegan said “some 20,000 people” had come since the show opened in late June, about double the normal turnout.

A visitor looks at an installation by Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri during the

A visitor looks at an installation by Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri during the ‘Minimalism and Conceptual Art’ exhibition, which features 19th and 20th century works by American and European artists at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art in the capital Iranian, August 22. , 2022. (AFP)

Describing the show’s theme, he added, “When we talk about minimalism, we’re mostly talking about the environment, not labor.”

Standing in front of American artist Robert Smithson’s “Rock Salt & Mirror”, 28-year-old painter Solmaz Daneshvar said she “enjoyed” the exhibit very much.

The exhibit, however, was at the center of controversy this month when amateur video surfaced showing two silver insects under the frame of a rare image by the late German photographer duo Bernd and Hilla Becher.

The video, the authenticity of which could not be independently verified by AFP, went viral.

Visitors watch

Visitors look at ‘Sinjerli Variations IV’, by American painter Frank Stella in 1977, during the ‘Minimalism and Conceptual Art’ exhibition, which features 19th and 20th century works by American and European artists, at the Art Museum contemporary from Tehran to the Iranian capital on August 22, 2022. (AFP)

The museum then issued a formal apology, assuring worried art lovers that the work of the Bechers, known for their photos of industrial structures, had not been damaged.

It also closed for two days for fumigation.

In 2015, the museum held an exhibition of 42 works by Western artists, including Pollock’s masterpiece “Mural on Indian Red Ground”, valued by experts at Christie’s auction house in 2010 at 250 millions of dollars.

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