In Tehran, the Museum of Contemporary Art has decided to exhibit many of the valuable pieces of western art that had been stored in their basement since the 1979 revolution — with some notable exceptions.
The 42 works, by artists that include Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Pablo Picasso, Rene Magritte and Francis Bacon had formerly been banned by Iran’s conservative Islamic leadership, as symbols of decadence and excess. Now on display in a new exhibition “Farideh Lashai: Towards the Ineffable,” the western works give context to a retrospective of Lashai’s modernist oeuvre. Among them is Jackson Pollock’s “Mural on Indian Red Ground,” that Christie’s valued five years ago at $250 million, and Andy Warhol’s 1963 acrylic “Suicide.”
The museum was founded in 1977 by Farah Pahlavi, wife of the former Shah of Iran, whose taste for European and American art was honed while studying in Paris. However, the multi-million dollar collection was moved out of sight to underground rooms as the revolution’s leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini railed against “Westoxification.”
Although the country’s culture minister Ali Jannati said he hoped the displays would be part of Iran’s increasing openness, some works remain hidden away — still considered too strongly associated with the U.S. or too sexually alluring. This includes Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s masterful “Gabrielle With An Open Blouse,” deemed not acceptable by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Public mention of Pahlavi’s role in founding the collection is also reportedly banned.