|Jackson Pollock, Mural on Red Indian Ground, 1950|
Did you know that the government of Iran still maintains a vast collection of modern art acquired before the Iranian Revolution in 1979?
In the last years of the Iranian Shah’s rein, during a particularly flush
oil-boom period, the Iranian queen Farah Pahlavi assembled a formidable
collection of modern art, now valued at several billion US dollars. The
Picassos, Pollocks and Warhols (among many other household names) in
Tehran’s Contemporary Art Museum were viewable from the museums’ opening
in 1977 until the Iranian Revolution in 1979 at which time the art was
deemed ‘Western’, ie decadent and unsuitable for viewing. Curators
spirited the art away into a climate-controlled basement vault – there,
it has been safe not only from climate extremes but also knife-wielding
revolutionaries. The artworks are often lent to other world
institutions, but display in Tehran depends on who is leading the
country – a few works were mounted in a Pop Art/Op Art show here in
2005, but any works depicting nudity or homoerotic overtones, like
Bacon’s Two Figures Lying on a Bed With Attendants, remain hidden.
Has anyone ever tried to trade weapons for modern art? Would the Iranians accept a few Exocet missiles or a tank battalion? Would such a trade be legal?
It's a shame that all of that art remains hidden away in vaults.