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How Much will Loans from Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art Cost?

December 25, 2015
Anika Dačić graduated in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade and is currently pursuing MA in Literary and Cultural Studies. Her interests lie in social and cultural aspects of contemporary art production and she especially enjoys writing about street and urban art. Likes to knit, play adventure video games and host quiz nights at a local bar.

For the past forty decades, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art collection has been covered with a mystery veil. Everyone knew that it was one of the most important Western Modern art collections overseas, but the artworks have been hidden from public view for years and nobody could tell with certainty what was locked in the vaults. In recent times, with the change of political climate in Iran, the Museum hosted an increasing number of Modern art exhibitions and started a series of loan negotiations with several influential art institutions in Europe and the United States. The cultural diplomacy initiative is praiseworthy, but it will come with a price that might exceed the expectations.

Tehran Museum Vault Where Works by Modern Masters have been hidden for years. Photo via
Tehran Museum Vault Where Works by Modern Masters have been hidden for years. Photo via

The Importance of Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art Collection

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art opened in 1977 as a project championed by Farah Pahlavi, late Shah’s wife who acquired a significant collection of modern art during the seventies, when the Western art market was experiencing depression. The collection hosted at the museum is comprised of approximately 1500 works by leading and most important European and US artists from late 19th and 20th century. The value of the collection is estimated at $3 billion and the collection is often described as a modern art gold mine. From Monet and Picasso to Warhol and Pollock, any big name in the world of art from the end of the 19th century onwards in included in the collection. After the Islamic revolution in 1979 and the change of the regime, works were deemed blasphemous and locked up in the basement vaults. Over the years, the mystery surrounding the Pahlavi collection grew as well as interest in it and many institutions unsuccessfully tried to negotiate loans. However, the things are different today.

Farah Pahlavi with Andy Warhol in 1977 next to her portrait done by the artist. Photo via
Farah Pahlavi with Andy Warhol in 1977 next to her portrait done by the artist. Photo via

Loan Negotiations with Berlin State Museums

It was recently announced that sixty works from Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art will travel to Berlin, becoming a part of the exhibition announced for 2016. It is the first time after the revolution that masterpieces from the collection will be on view outside of Iran and the initiative for cultural cooperation has been widely praised. However, there is a question of price to be settled. As The Art Newspaper recently reported the loan fee for the planned exhibition organized by Berlin State Museums in collaboration with Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art could add up to $3 million. The Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt that started negotiations with Tehran officials earlier gave up on the idea to borrow works when the price exceeded $1 million. In spite of large fees, several other institutions are starting to negotiate with Tehran.

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
Jackson Pollock – Mural on Indian Red Ground, 1950, detail. One of the most valuable pieces in Farah Pahlavi’s collection. Courtesy of WikiArt

Other Possible Loans

In November, Rome’s museum of Modern art – MaXXI enthusiastically announced that they began their talks with Tehran and that works from the Pahlavi collection will travel to Rome in 2017 for the exhibition curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi. Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC is also interested in being the host of artworks borrowed from Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art for the first time in the United States. Representatives from both of these institutions refuse to comment on possible loan fees, so we will have to wait and see how much the exhibitions will cost.

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Featured image: Andy Warhol – Mao Zedong on view at Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo via