The Greatest Collection of Modern Art You’ll Never See

InterNations member Philip, who has recently moved to Tehran, shares one of the city’s – and the art world’s – best kept secrets with us on the InterNations blog:

Here’s a question:
Which Middle East city museum has the greatest collection of contemporary western art?

(a) Jeddah
(b) Baghdad
(c) Tehran
(d) Dubai

Well let me tell you a little secret: it’s Tehran! Yes, surprisingly Tehran holds one of the finest museums of contemporary post modern and modern art collections in the world. The current estimate is around £3 Billion in storage. But how did Iran come to have this treasure of Pollocks, Warhols & Bacons, to name but a few? Prior to the Islamic revolution, Iran’s previous government went on a spending spree in New York and other western capitals and bought pretty much anything that was on offer. What sealed the deal was that the west was in the biggest recession in the post war era, so most of the fantastic pieces of art were in the $10,000s rather than $100,000s.

You often hear about the mysterious collection of modern art in Tehran from newspapers such as the British Guardian, promoting the fact that these modern art treasures have been banished to the Islamic Republic out of sheer bad fortune. But this simply isn’t the case. The successive museum directors of TMOCA, as the museum is known, have always been aware of what they have in the “downstairs vault” and even though some pieces have been locked away, many more have been on show at different points and others continue to be to this day. Also TMOCA has a policy of art loaning which isn’t highly publicised but a great service for other museum exhibitions around the world, recently lending artworks to Japan and the United Kingdom. Recently TMOCA hosted the “Pop Art” exhibition showcasing many of those fabulous pieces, and what’s more the place is often quiet with just a few art students scuttling past. Compare this to places like the Guggenheim in New York where you would be lucky to get two seconds of tranquility. Personally I am glad that Tehran has this über collection of art … and much to the consternation of the international art world will probably never have a fire sale.

If you are on business in Tehran and wish to break away from the summer heat or winter chill, then I would recommend an afternoon stop at TMOCA. They also have a fabulous 1970s retro café (unintentional) looking over the sculpture yard with quite nice coffee. Unfortunately as it is Ramadan right now the café is closed but well worth a visit later in the year.

Picture of TMOCA by Zereshk, source: Wikimedia Commons

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