Iran puts little seen modern art masterpieces on view
By Robin Pomeroy and Ramin Mostafavi
TEHRAN (Reuters Life!) - Artists like Monet, Picasso and Warhol were considered revolutionary in their day, but their works were not much appreciated by the leaders of Iran's Islamic revolution and many were kept out of view for decades.
Now, one of the greatest collections of contemporary Western art -- put together under a Western-leaning monarchy in pre-revolutionary Iran -- is open to the public, with some works on display for the first time in more than 30 years.
In the Islamic Republic, where the United States is considered the "great Satan" and its decadent music and movies are considered the products of a Godless society, the art exhibition is full of cultural contradictions.
The first paintings visitors to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art see are of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, and his successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- portraits that are compulsory features of all public buildings.
Below their austere gaze, a winding staircase leads down to what looks like an empty black plinth, but on closer inspection proves to be a modern art installation -- an open vat of crude oil -- the substance that paid for Iran's priceless collection.
The galleries of the stark concrete museum -- built especially to house the collection during the latter years of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's reign -- are works by pretty much every major Western artist of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
"Without exaggerating, Tehran's contemporary art museum has one the most important treasuries of artistic works in the world," said Ehsan Aghaie, executive manager of the exhibition which runs throughout the summer.
Past the French impressionists, the Van Gogh lithographs and the self-portrait of Edvard Munch, sculptures by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti litter the hallways. Continued...