Thousands throng to Iran museum with Western art masterpieces

Thousands throng to Iran museum with Western art masterpieces

Thousands throng to Iran museum with Western art masterpieces

More than 20,000 people have flocked to an Iranian museum showcasing renowned Western artists’ works, some for the first time -- part of a treasure trove amassed before the Islamic Revolution.    

The museum’s collection is reputed to be the greatest line-up of modern masterpieces outside Europe and the United States, and includes multi-million-dollar pieces, much of which has been kept under wraps since the 1979 revolution.    

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

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

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

He said one of the main factors for the footfall of this exhibit was that “38 masterpieces” were being displayed “for the first time”.    

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

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

Its design was inspired by Iran’s desert wind towers - an architectural element used to catch and circulate cool air in hot environments.    

Most of the collection was built up by the shah’s wife, former queen Farah Pahlavi, who deployed a team of experts to tour Western auctions and snap up prestigious paintings and sculptures to boost the country’s cultural profile.    

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

But the international works went underground after the Islamic republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini railed against “Westoxification”, deploring Western moral and sexual depravity which he said had infected the Islamic world.    

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

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

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.                

The current show, which runs until 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.