The curators of the ambitious exhibition “Unedited History: Iran 1960-2014” say that the show will break new ground in the study of Middle Eastern art. “This is the first exhibition on this institutional scale focusing on Iranian art from 1960 to today. It will be interesting to see how the artists, and the archival material on show, reflect the complexities of modern and contemporary history,” says Morad Montazami, who has organised the exhibition along with Catherine David, Odile Burluraux and Narmine Sadeg.
The show brings together more than 200 works by 24 artists—including Morteza Avini (1947-93), Bahman Jalali (1944-2010) and Esmail Shishegaran (born 1946)—across three chronological sections: the years 1960 to 1970; the revolutionary era and the Iran-Iraq war (1979-88); and the postwar period.
The 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran’s last royal ruler, was overthrown, marks a rupture in the country’s history. He supported Iranian Modernist artists through state-sponsored festivals, while the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran, which includes works by Picasso and Bacon, was formed under the auspices of Empress Farah Pahlavi. “We are trying to show a continuum pre- and post-1979. Many things broke with the Revolution but modernity was not one of them. Modernism was re-shaped,” Montazami says.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran has loaned more than 20 works by Bahman Mohassess (1931-2010) and Behjat Sadr (1924-2009) to the show. “These artists, one figurative and the other abstract, are emblematic of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s,” Montazami says.
Meanwhile, Kamran Shirdel’s film rushes of the 1979 Revolution, Memories of Destruction, have not been exhibited before. “This work demonstrates that we can only grasp history through fragments,” Montazami says. The show also incorporates archival material, including posters advertising the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of Arts, which was held each summer from 1967 to 1977.
Five paintings by Kazem Chalipa, whose works have rarely been seen in the West, are on loan from the visual arts and Islamic communications centre in Tehran. He is considered a post-revolution propagandist but his “paintings are complex and paradoxical, recording certain moments in history”, Montazami says. Other key post-1979 artists include Mitra Farahani, whose work D&G, 2011, depicts a gruesome decapitation. The show will travel to Rome’s MaXXI museum (December-February 2015).
• Unedited History: Iran 1960-2014, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 16 May-24 August
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Tehran today'