TEHRAN – With works by Picasso, Miro, Bacon, Gaugin, Rothko and Kandinsky, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art has one of the most impressive collections of Western art in the region.
However, its acquisition in the twilight years of the Shah is a point of controversy for Iran’s current rulers, who have been in charge since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
The museum in the Iranian capital re-opened its doors recently after two years of restoration. Its installations and vaults have been given a rejuvenating overhaul.
For Hassan Noferesti, the museum’s communications director, the TMoCA is among “the 10 most important contemporary art museums in the world” due to its varied collection of work by local and international artists.
Half of the 4,000 works that belong to the museum are by Western artists, the majority of which were acquired by Farah Diba, the empress consort of Iran before the revolution.
Farah Diba, who fled Iran before the revolution and now spends much of her time in Paris, has criticized the rotational nature of the curation at the museum, saying that many of the Western works she acquired were being “hidden.”
It is true that notable pieces like Pablo Picasso’s Fenetre ouverte sur la rue de Penthievre (1920) or Wassily Kandinsky’s Tensions Claires (1937) spend much of their time in the museum’s vaults.
“We have a lot of important and famous works of art,” Noferesti told EFE. “If we wanted to permanently display them all, we would not have the space for the rest.”
The only two permanent features are Matter and Mind (1977) by Noriyuki Haraguchi – a tub of 5,000 liters of petroleum – and around 14 sculptures in the museum’s garden and patios.
Farah Diba, the last wife of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, inaugurated the museum just two years before the Islamic Revolution.
Jackson Pollock’s Mural on Indian Red Ground (1950), which Farah Diba considers one of the most important works in the collection, was not put on display in Tehran until 2005.
Since then, it has been put on display “five or six times” and was loaned to Japan for an exhibition in 2012, the director of communications said.
“It’s not true that the works are kept in the vaults… and that nobody has seen them. For different reasons, in different exhibitions, we’ve displayed a big portion of the collection,” he added.
He acknowledged, however, that around 15 works of art have not been put on show due to the fact they depict nudes, which is not permitted by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s authorities.
One of the challenges for the museum is to digitize its collection so that it can be viewed in its entirety online, an initiative that hopes to end the speculation around decisions taken in the curation of its works of art.
The museum’s current temporary exhibit, Armaghan, is focused largely on Iranian works of art.