Daily Israel Report

Secret Iranian Art Collection Includes Works of Israeli Icon

An Iranian art collection, being partially displayed at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art, includes works by Jewish and Israeli artists.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 8/6/2012, 1:55 PM

art (illustrative)
art (illustrative)
Reuters

A secret Iranian art collection, which is now being partially displayed at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art, includes up to ten works of Israel’s highest-selling and most iconic artist Yaacov Agam, The Algemeiner revealed.

Considered to be the finest of its kind outside of Europe and the US, the modern art collection includes works by Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch and others, and was brought to Iran before the revolution by the late Shah’s wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi.

“The Empress was visiting Paris in 1977 two years before the revolution,” Ron Agam, the artist’s son, told The Algemeiner, “and she saw a very important artwork of my father’s called Salon Agam, commissioned by the late President Pompidou, in the Elysee, the presidential palace of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing at the time.”

After doing research on the artist, she requested to see more, and the Prime Minister of France at the time, Raymond Barre, arranged for her to have a private Agam presentation at a Paris gallery, according to Ron Agam.

“I was in the gallery with my father when she came with her entourage and she selected a few pieces; she asked my father if he could come to Iran to install them,” he said. “She selected some very early pieces, very valuable pieces, some oil and some acrylic.”

Following the Islamic revolution of 1979, however, the Queen fled the country with the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the country’s new Islamist leaders seized control of the state treasures.

Ron Agam is now worried about the future of “the treasures” due to the Islamic Republic’s disdain for western art.

“I am extremely concerned” said Agam, “I would love them to give it to the Pompidou museum or an Israeli museum, which would be an incredible gesture on their part. It is so difficult at this time with everything that is going on in the international arena; it is hopeless to think that there will be a resolution to this.”

Agam did express some degree of optimism, however, that his father’s style is well suited to Islamic tastes. “The art that my father created, influenced by kabbala, is totally in sync with the Islamic culture because it is totally abstract, if you view the artwork of mosques, everything is abstract. Nothing has a figurative representation,” he said.

The Iranian collection, which is thought to be worth over $3 billion, also includes iconic pieces by Jewish artist Marc Chagall, as well as Pissaro, Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Marcel Duchamp and a number of others.

The Guardian noted that prior to the current exhibition, “the pieces have been stacked in the basement of Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art for more than 30 years, gathering dust in storage. Censors in Iran classed some as un-Islamic, pornographic or too gay, and they have never been shown in public. Others have been displayed only once or twice.”