First Published: 2003-02-26

Iran to sell hidden nude masterpieces

Tehran Museum director says parliament approved sale of 15 to 30 Western works in bid to build up art collection.


Middle East Online

By Siavosh Ghazi - TEHRAN

The museum has a Renoir painted in 1908 which will not be sold

Iran has decided to sell several nude paintings it bought in the 1970s during the shah's rule, masterpieces which have been kept out of public view since the Islamic revolution on moral grounds.

The proceeds from auctioning the "hidden treasury" are to go towards building up Iran's collection of contemporary art and to purchase works by Iranian artists.

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art even has a Renoir painted in 1908, "Gabrielle à la Chemise Ouverte," in its collection.

But it will not be sold, museum director Alireza Sami-Azar said, amid concerns in Iran's artistic circles over the possible loss of such treasures.

During the reign of the late shah, who was ousted in the 1979 revolution, Iran built an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures by both foreign and Iranian artists.

Iran's parliament has approved the sale of 15 to 30 Western works, including a number of nudes, valued at about 25 million dollars, according to Sami-Azar.

The decision has to be approved by the Guardians Council which oversees legislation in Iran.

"We are not selling the paintings because they cannot be displayed," Sami-Azar argued. "We have four to five works which cannot be exhibited, but they are regularly shown to specialists and artists."

"Our society is becoming more open and many works that have not been shown to the public may be exhibited later," he said, expressing relief that such works were not destroyed in the heady first days of the revolution.

"Iran possesses one of the most important collections of Western contemporary art," he said.

It includes more than 100 works by Polak, Kooning, Renoir, Picasso, Braque, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro and Monet, as well as "perhaps several hundred less important works," added Sami-Azar.

In 1995, Iran exchanged a work by Kooning for several pages of an Iranian Shahnameh (epic of kings, dating back to ancient Persia) of great historical value.

Sami-Azar hailed the parliament's decision to update Iran's collection. "What is important for us is that for the first time since the Islamic revolution, a draft law may authorise us to buy Western works," he said.

While many Iranian artists, however, are still sorry that irreplaceable masterpieces will be lost in the process, Sami-Azar points to a gap in the Iranian collection of the 1970s.

"We want to buy the works of German artist Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Anselm Keiffer, and two British sculptors, Anthony Caro and Barbara Hepworth, and American sculptor Jeff Koons.

Sami-Azar points out that his museum has been active since he took over as director in 1998.

"We have organised four exhibitions during the past three years focusing on abstract works and expression, Pop Art, from cubism to minimalism and impressionism to post-impressionism," he said.

An ongoing "abstract expressionism" exhibition is pulling big crowds.

The Tehran museum is to stage three exhibitions up until October featuring works by German contemporary painter Pierre Armand Fernandez as well as British sculptors.


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