The boom in Iranian art has caught us by surprise. Iran is not a country where a thriving art market immediately comes to mind. But this story in the New York Times does more to fill in the blanks than anything we’ve read or seen so far. (Watch the excellent video for a sense of Tanavoli at work.) Dubai, which has strong ties to Tehran, plays an important part:
For years, “Iranian painters could not sell their paintings for a price that could even cover the cost of their canvas and paint,” said Parviz Tanavoli, an Iranian sculptor whose work sold for $2.8 million at a Christie’s auction here in April.
(The whole story behind the Iranian art boom after the jump.)
[ . . . ] the artists benefited from the years when Mohammad Khatami, a reformist president, was in power (from 1997 to 2005) and the government began to actively promote artists, rather than controlling them as it did right after the revolution. [ . . . ] After the revolution in 1979 that brought hard-line religious clerics to power, Iranian artists suffered not only from the country’s isolation. They also had to operate under new and more restrictive rules. The religious authorities banned depictions of the human body and erotic scenes, and artists had to submit pictures of their work to the authorities to get permission to show pieces at local galleries.
Mr. Khatami overturned the rule requiring artists to obtain permits, but his most important contribution might have been appointing a new director of the state-run Visual Art Center, Alireza Sami Azar, a passionate art-lover, who began promoting the artists’ work abroad. Mr. Sami Azar left that job in 2005 but is still promoting Iranian artists in his new job as a Christie’s adviser.
Since the loosening of restrictions in 1998, the number of art galleries in Tehran has increased to 60 from 8. At least three of those new galleries opened in October and November.[ . . . ]
Experts divide most of the Iranian art currently on the market into two eras: modern, which belongs to an older generation of artists, and contemporary, referring to art after the revolution. Mr. Tanavoli, the sculptor whose work recently sold for nearly $3 million, is considered one of the luminaries of the modern era. [ . . . ] Most of these artists are known for using calligraphy in a wildly abstract form; some, like Mr. Tanavoli, decorate their sculptures with such calligraphy.
Those known as “contemporary” artists have developed their own styles, but many of them are increasingly affected by their physical surroundings and political culture. They show the complexities of their society — eight years of war with Iraq and three decades of political and social suppression — in a simple but indirect way.
Dubai Provides Iranian Artists a Bridge to the World (New York Times)