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September 1, 2005

It's On in Tehran

This past Monday, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art opened an exhibition entitled "Modern Art Movement," for the first time bringing together virtually their entire collection of Western art, much of which has been in storage since the ouster of the Shah.

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art: Modern Art Movement

From Reuters (via linkfilter):

Spanning the 1870s to the late 1980s and boasting works by artists including Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, the "Modern Art Movement" exhibition contains some paintings not shown since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
"This is the first time we have ever displayed the collection together," Alireza Samiazar, director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, told Reuters.
"It's a sensational show for all of us and, considering the political situation, it could be quite a controversial show as well," he said.
Religious conservatives, led by new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have swept reform-minded politicians out of power in elections over the last three years, raising fears that a tentative liberalization in the arts will soon be reversed.
The museum's highly-valuable collection of Western art, which numbers around 150 paintings, was largely amassed during the 1970s by Farah Pahlavi, wife of the late Shah of Iran.
The works by artists such as Rene Magrite, Vincent Van Gogh, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and others were briefly put on display when the museum opened in 1978.
But the Shah's fall in 1979 saw most of them locked away in a vault by Iran's new Islamic leaders who were opposed to Western cultural influence and "immoral" art.
For more than 20 years most of the collection never saw the light of day.
...
The exhibition marks another bold move by the museum which last year hosted a British sculpture exhibition featuring works by Damien Hirst and Henry Moore and this year loaned a Francis Bacon painting to the UK which had been locked away since the revolution.
But, Samiazar said, with the recent change in government in Tehran, it would probably be his last act in charge of the museum.
"I don't think they want me to stay and if they wanted me to I don't think I would," he said.

Browse the collection online here.

Three works from the collection will not be on view. A Francis Bacon is on loan to an exhibition currently at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Two other paintings won't be shown due to "Islamic limitations"—a semi-nude Renoir Gabrielle and André Derain's The Golden Age:

André Derain: L'Age d'Or

In his exhibition note, Edward Lucie-Smith offers the following:

The non-Iranian section of the collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is surely one of the great surprises of the international museum world. Running from the 1870s to the end of the 1980s, it offers a panorama of the chief developments in Western painting and sculpture from the rise of Impressionism to the triumph of Minimalism. The most important art movements are illustrated with a series of masterpieces that any museum in the world might envy. This is clearly the most important collection of the art of this period outside of Western Europe and North America. Russian museums possess great masterpieces dating from before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, but they are of course completely lacking in paintings and sculptures which illustrate later developments, such as the Surrealism of the period between the two World Wars, and the Abstract Impressionist and Pop Art movements which flourished in the years immediately following World War II.
The collection has two areas of particular strength—a group of masterpieces from the Post-Impressionist and Cubist epochs of French art, and an in-depth representation of American paintings and sculpture from the time when New York was the creative focus of the whole art world.
...
The inheritors of the world's ancient civilization, such as that of the Iranian plateau, have sometimes complained, with good reason, about the way the treasures bequeathed by these have been plundered to fill the great museums of the West. These works of art have, however, not simply been trophies, they have had a vivifying effect on the cultures to which they have been transported. The collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is perhaps the first which attempts to reverse this process. It makes available to a non-western public the great achievements of European and North American art, created during the recent historical period when western influence was, for both good and ill, paramount throughout the world. The works are not offered for purposes of imitation, but for their own sake, as major achievements of the human spirit, attempting to speak a universal language. The Museum acts as custodian of these works, not simply for the Iranian people, but for the whole of mankind.

"It's On in Tehran"
Posted by Dan at 02:11 PM

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Referenced in this post:

Edward Lucie-Smith, Art Tomorrow: Biography
Guardian: The beast within—Jonathan Jones
Linkfilter.net: Banned Western Art Shown In Iran
National Galleries of Scotland: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Persian Journal: World Masterpieces in Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
Reuters: Iran puts rarely-seen Western art on display—Paul Hughes
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art: Collection
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art: Collection—André Derain, Composition (L'Age d'Or)
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art: Modern Art Movement
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art: Modern Art Movement—Note by Edward Lucie-Smith
Wikipedia: Gabrielle Renard
Wikipedia: Iranian Revolution