A planned Berlin exhibition of Western Modern Art from the collection of the Tehran museum has been cancelled. The paintings were collected by the wife of Iran’s late shah and featured masterpieces by Monet, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. It is thought to be one of the largest and most valuable collections of Western contemporary art in the world. The works of art have spent decades hidden away in storage, in the Iranian capital Tehran.
Trouble brewed when fears that the Islamic republic would have problems with legal claims if the pictures travel abroad.
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which looks after Berlin’s main museums, said Iran’s refusal to issue the necessary paperwork forced it to cancel the exhibition that had been agreed with the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Foundation president Hermann Parzinger said the decision had been taken “with great regret” because “Iran has still not granted an export license for the artworks”.
The exhibition, originally planned to have opened with some 60 loaned artworks in Berlin in early December 2017, could not be delayed any longer, he said in a statement. “However, the SPK remains committed to cultural exchange, including with Iran, and will continue to promote this dialogue with the appropriate measures,” he said. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the works assembled under the patronage of his wife Farah Pahlavi have not been shown together outside Iran, according to the SPK.
The paintings were originally intended to go on view at the Maxxi Museum designed by Zaha Hadid in Rome but Berlin outbid the museum. The Vice President of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation), Günther Schauerte, and the Director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Majid Mollanoroozi, then signed a Memorandum of Understanding.
The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) has one of the largest collections of Western contemporary art outside Europe and the United States. Purchased under the patronage of the last Iranian Empress, Shahbanu Farah Pahlavi, and destined for the TMoCA, which opened in 1977, only a portion of these works has been exhibited since the Islamic revolution and the overthrow of the Shah. Now a selection of the Western works is due to be displayed in Berlin for three months, together with an equal number of works by Iranian artists, also from the TMoCA collection. Modern art comes from Tehran to Berlin Steinmeier: At this time, especially, we need the diplomacy of culture – Parzinger: A symbolic bridge in a time rife with conflict.
It has been rumoured for a number of years that the Iran Government would like to sell the collection which is valued at a billion dollars. It is not considered of cultural value to the present regime and this would be the perfect opportunity to showcase the collection before selling it to the highest bidder. The collection has already sold De Kooning’s Woman III a painting which realised $162.4m. Woman III, as its title suggests, is the third of six paintings with a woman theme created by abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning from 1951 to 1953. It measures 68 x 48 1⁄2 inches and is reportedly the only painting in the series that is owned by a private individual. The Woman III was part of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art collection from the late 70s to 1994. However, from 1979 onwards, the painting was hidden from the public due to strict rules on images of women set by the Iranian government after the 1979 revolution.