Iran’s Prized Modern and Contemporary Art Collection on View in Tehran

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Shafrazi. (Courtesy Patrick McMullan Company)

Over in The Guardian, Saeed Kamall Dehghan has a fantastic story on the modern and contemporary art collection that the Shah assembled in Iran in the 1970s before fleeing the country in 1979 as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power. Though it’s questionable business appraising a huge art collection without examining it closely, The Guardian says it’s worth perhaps $2.5 billion in total.

Some of the work, which has long languished in the basement of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, because it was deemed by authorities to be “un-Islamic, pornographic or too gay,” is currently featured in a new exhibition there about Pop and Op art, two strengths from the collection.

The whole piece is worth a read since The Guardian spoke with Farah Pahlavi, the Iranian queen who helped pick works for the collection. The only work destroyed in the intervening years, she said, was Warhol’s portrait of her. The government also traded away a de Kooning, which she’s not happy about.

How did the Iranians acquire the work? New York dealer Tony Shafrazi, for one, helped build the collection at the time as a consultant. Back in 2009, Lisa Zeitz spoke with Mr. Shafrazi about his work in Iran for an article on Artnet. An excerpt from her piece:

Shafrazi travelled to Teheran with suitcases full of transparencies and acted as an intermediary “for very small commissions from the dealers and no money from the royal family.” He initiated the sale of contemporary masterpieces, among them great disaster paintings by Andy Warhol that cost $110,000 at the time, a big Jasper Johns, three de Koonings, and three Lichtensteins. After the opening of the museum, Shafrazi decided to open a gallery in Tehran himself.

The revolution, Ms. Zeitz notes, put a fast end to the gallery.