Art Impounded since 1979 has been Delivered to Iran

Art News

December 19, 2015

The United States has delivered fourteen pieces of American art purchased by Iran almost forty years ago. The art pieces were blocked for four decades due to rupture in relations between two countries. Art definitely connects people and nations (it’s a well-known fact), but, sometimes politics determines the rules of the game, and there is nothing we can do about it. Since 1979 Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Tehran Hostage crisis, the ties between the US and Iran have been seriously ruptured. There has been no trade, nor normal cultural, political or economic relations between two counties. However, in the recent periods, the diplomatic relations have been improved, which probably helped the delivery of these fourteen pieces of American art.

Art Impounded since 1979 has been Delivered to Iran
Michael Graves in his studio (courtesy of

Fourteen Pieces of American art Delivered to Iran

The art pieces were bought by Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art back in 1978. Although it’s not known who the authors of these artworks are, American officials described the pieces as architectural drawings. The Iranian state-run English-language channel Press TV says the delivery is the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Iranian officials two years ago with a tribunal created in 1981 under an agreement known as the Algiers Accords. This tribunal, based in The Hague, created a mechanism for Iranians and Americans to seek impounded assets from each other’s country after the 1979 revolution and the break in diplomatic ties that followed the Iranian seizure of the United States Embassy in Tehran, where 52 American hostages were held for 444 days. On the other hand, Persian-language version of the agency’s report identified 10 of the pieces as having been drawn by Michael Graves and four by Robert A. M. Stern, both of them highly renowned American architects. However, details and the value of the artworks are still unknown.

Art Impounded since 1979 has been Delivered to Iran
Tehran Museum Of Contemporary Art in 1970s

The Secret Delivery

Many assumed that the delivery was made possible due to slight improvement in relations between Iran and the United States after the signing of a landmark nuclear deal in July. However, officials claim that the delivery has nothing to do with the improvement in relations. Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency, which broke the news of the art delivery, made no mention of when the Iranians had first filed a claim with the tribunal, saying only that “following the Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the U.S. government refrained to deliver them to Iran.” In addition, the News Agency stated that art had been “taken back to the country after 37 years as part of its blocked proprietary interests.” One State Department official gave a brief statement, saying that the dispute “has now been resolved and the specific pieces of artwork have been transferred to Iran.”  In addition, the official said the transfer had been completed “in the last couple of months.”

Art Impounded since 1979 has been Delivered to Iran
Robert A.M. Stern (courtesy of

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art

We recently wrote about Tehran art scene and the amazing Tehran Museum of Contemporary art collection. After the Islamic revolution in 1979, one of the largest and most valuable collections of modern Western art has been locked in a storage, condemned to live in the darkness of the Museum’s vault. The collection of 1500 works by basically any significant artist from 1970s and 1980s became a myth over the last four decades. Fortunately, the collection is becoming more visible, and it will be even richer after the delivery of fourteen pieces of American art.

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Featured Image: Aerial view of Tehran. All Images used for illustrative purposes only.