A worldly art scene sprouts in Tehran

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His pieces have been displayed at the British Museum in London and the World Bank headquarters in Washington, been shown at exhibits in Venice, Amsterdam and New York, and fetched tens of thousands of dollars in auctions held by Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

But artist Khosrow Hassanzadeh says he was never more delighted than when a barely literate carpenter arrived at his dingy former studio to make some repairs and stood, mouth agape, staring at one of his works. It was a garish, gigantic diorama of a famous Iranian professional wrestler, decorated with cheap trinkets, fake flowers and esoteric memorabilia comprehensible only to locals in the south Tehran neighborhood.

“I do art for my neighbor,” says Hassanzadeh, whose perpetual smile softens a face of severe angles as eye-catching as his larger-than-life works, which incorporate the Islamic Republic’s bombastic propaganda with street-level Iranian kitsch and the playful sensibilities of Andy Warhol.

Hassanzadeh, 46, is among the most successful of a new crop of artists in Iran who seamlessly meld East and West, even as they breezily blend Iran’s traditions, both hokey and classical, religious and secular, and its recent history, especially the traumas of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, into the idioms of high art.


Although they’ve made a modest splash on the international circuit, they choose to remain in their homeland to feed off its ancient inspirations despite the challenges, including a new rule that requires artists to send photos of their works to the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance for clearance before sending them abroad. This work is being noticed; for instance, a show of new work by 30 Iranian artists recently opened at Los Angeles’ Morono Kiang gallery and is running simultaneously with a show of the artists’ work at Tehran’s Aaran Gallery.

Read more on the Iranian artists in the Arts & Books report from Tehran.

-- Borzou Daragahi