Warhol in Tehran: Iranians flock to American pop art exhibit

TEHRAN -- While Iran's hardliners may continue to rail against Western culture poisoning Islamic society, Iranians are flocking in Tehran to see Andy Warhol's famous soup cans.

Warhol in Tehran: Iranians flock to American pop art exhibit

TEHRAN -- While Iran's hardliners may continue to rail against Western culture poisoning Islamic society, Iranians are flocking in Tehran to see Andy Warhol's famous soup cans.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran houses 18 Warhol classics on its circular floors. These include silk-screen portraits of Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist China, and Marilyn Monroe. There are also paintings of Campbell Soup Cans, and a vintage Jacqueline Kennedy print.

The exhibit is simply called A Review of Andy Warhol's Works and opened in June. It closes on Sunday. For a few weeks, the museum was closed to Warhol fans due to the coronavirus which continues to infect Iran. It has claimed more lives than any other Middle East country.

Fatemeh Rezaee 46, exclaimed, "I love this picture," as she took in the color ink of Marilyn Monroe's skin. Warhol made it in 1962, shortly after Marilyn Monroe died. "I visualized Marilyn Monroe's story by looking at it." It makes death real for me."

Rezaee, a retired teacher dressed in loose silk hijab and wearing a loose scarf, was so fascinated by the exhibit, she flew all of the way from Shiraz to see the exhibit twice.

She continued, "His choice of colors is exceptional and to me conveys feelings such as melancholy or mortality."

Warhol's work is part of a permanent art collection that has been kept in Tehran museum vault for billions. The country's oil wealth grew during Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's reign. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the pro-Western monarchy, it acquired thousands of works, including Picassos, Monets, and Jackson Pollocks.

The new Iranian theocracy banned modern art and took away famous paintings. However, as cultural restrictions have eased, around 1,500 Western art objects from the dynastic period have been put back on display. Tehran's municipal council adorned the city's billboards in 2015 with hundreds of paintings by American painters, including Rothko and Hopper. This transformed the sprawling city into an open-air museum.

Visitors won't see Warhol's gritty films or his experimental films in Tehran. When the museum displayed its entire collection from 20th-century American and European masterworks in 2005, some of its most prized pieces, including a Renoir nude, were kept secret to avoid offending conservative Islamic sensibilities.

On Wednesday, Tehran's audience was satisfied with Warhol’s silk-screen printings. These prints challenged orthodoxies and depicted consumerist themes in early 1960s.

Hasan Noferesti, museum spokesperson, said that Andy Warhol's paintings have been extremely well received by the public. He noted that the museum had to limit the number of visitors an hour due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Shahin Gandomi, a 21-year-old microbiology student, was dressed in black and his hair pulled back in praise of the Mao Zedong series.

He said, "When an artist depicts a dictator in a painting, it seems like that dictator is being removed from his sacred place."

Although the showcase is ending, Noferesti stated that the museum will soon have more Warhols and Western art on display.

Despite Iran having no diplomatic relations with the United States, hostilities between the two countries have been simmering since 1979. However, bootleg copies Hollywood blockbusters as well as Western music are still popular in Iran, especially among young urbanites.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have risen in recent months as President Ebrahim Raisi was elected. This is the protege Iran's supreme leader. Hard-liners are now at the top of every government branch.

Iran has increased its nuclear program, and talks to revive the now-defunct 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers are still in limbo. Trump, the former president, reneged three years ago on the agreement and launched an economic campaign to cripple the country's economy.

At Tehran's white-walled, sleek exhibit this week there was no mention of American sanctions or political tensions.

Kourosh Aminzadeh (20 years old) said that there have been many great artists throughout history and that it was a tremendous privilege to be able to view their works. He had returned for a second time.

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