Hidden For Decades, Pollocks, Rothkos And More Go On Display In Iran : Parallels Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art has a spectacular collection of 20th century Western art. But until now, most of it has been locked away in a vault since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
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Hidden For Decades, Pollocks, Rothkos And More Go On Display In Iran

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Hidden For Decades, Pollocks, Rothkos And More Go On Display In Iran

Hidden For Decades, Pollocks, Rothkos And More Go On Display In Iran

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/457118704/458127762" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Here's news about the United States and Iran.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's not about the nuclear deal Iran made with the U.S.

WERTHEIMER: It's about an artistic relationship. Walk into the museum of contemporary art in Tehran; you'll see the work of an Iranian artist on one wall and the work of Americans across the way.

INSKEEP: Faryar Javaherian curates an exhibit that includes those American painters.

FARYAR JAVAHERIAN: Pollock, Warhol, Rothko, Liechtenstein, Rauschenberg.

INSKEEP: She's listing modern American artists whose works are all in the collection of an oil-rich nation. They were bought back in the 1960s and '70s. The wife of the Shah of Iran, a U.S. ally, collected them. In 1979, an anti-American Islamist government came to power. Javaherian says that for most of the years since then, the paintings have been, as she puts it, sleeping in storage. We reached her over a scratchy phone line from Tehran.

JAVAHERIAN: The latest things that were available in Western galleries, we have them.

INSKEEP: Are there many works that have been absent from public view for many, many years?

JAVAHERIAN: Yes, most of them. The 40 ones that we have selected, a lot of them have not been exhibited since the revolution.

INSKEEP: Why is that?

JAVAHERIAN: The policies of the Islamic Guidance and Cultural Ministry is not really to promote Western art.

INSKEEP: And has that attitude changed in recent years?

JAVAHERIAN: Yeah, I think they have realized, you know, the material value of these works of art. So now they take better care of these. And we had a head curator from the Centre Pompidou visiting us. And he told me that most of our paintings are in much better condition than similar ones in the West because they have been sleeping in storage for 37 years. That part made me really happy (laughter).

INSKEEP: Now, an Iranian artist who is effectively honored here is Farideh Lashai.

JAVAHERIAN: Yes. She's a woman who died about two years ago. And she's really one of the few modernists we have in Iran. And she was also a very politically active woman and a feminist. She did some prison time during the shah's period. So she's very unique.

INSKEEP: So you said you're playing Western artists off of Iranian artists. If we had an opportunity to walk into one of the rooms of this exhibition, would we see an American painting specifically on one wall and an Iranian painting?

JAVAHERIAN: Exactly. So for instance, if we walk into Gallery 4, there is a Rothko, and there is a Pollock. And then on the other wall, we have a lot of Farideh's paintings dated from the 1970s.

INSKEEP: The same era when some of the Western paintings might have been.

JAVAHERIAN: Right, the same era. And then, for instance, Farideh has a drawing which could have been drawn by Cy Twombly. So we placed those two together.

INSKEEP: So - so when you walk into Gallery 4 and you look at the American paintings and the Iranian paintings, you're comparing them, of course, on an artistic level. Is there something that it tells you about the cultures of the two countries?

JAVAHERIAN: Well, you know, I think art is always the first level of connection between people, no matter what country they're from. Art is a sort of universal language. So I think it's great that we try to connect through artistic issues. And then we hope that, Insha'Allah, political issues will also get resolved.

INSKEEP: Faryar Javaherian, thank you very much.

JAVAHERIAN: You're welcome. Bye-bye.

INSKEEP: She's co-curator of an Iranian exhibition that includes American paintings.

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