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Farah Diba and the contemporary dream

“The most important works by Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and William De Kooning are in Teheran and were purchased by an exceptional collector, namely the former Empress Farah Diba in the 1970’s. They are now worth a fortune”. These words, uttered by a forty-year old lawyer who escaped to Switzerland from Khomeini’s Iran following the revolution in 1979, are almost too difficult to believe. That immense treasure trove of works of art by the most important international artists of the Twentieth century, from Picasso, to Monet, Van Gogh, Munch, Mirò, Dalì, Kandinsky and Warhol has since been buried for almost forty years in an archive in the underground rooms of the TMoCA, Teheran’s contemporary art museum. It is the most important collection of western art in Asia and is worth today somewhere between the figures of three and five billion dollars. Those hundreds of works are a burden almost too big to put up with for the country’s authorities seeing that they represent the unstoppable ambition of the exceedingly rich Shah of Persia and his third wife, Farah Diba, twenty years younger than the Shah himself and mother to his four children.
Behind the scenes of such opulence there lay the weakness – accepted and understood by many in Teheran at that time – that the country was aping the United States even on a cultural level. The imperial couple’s detractors never spared them from criticism regarding the luxurious lifestyle that they displayed even when they met President Kennedy and his wife, Jackie.
It was highly preferable, therefore, to put everything under lock and key in expectation of better times ahead. Maybe the building – in shape not dissimilar to the Guggenheim in New York and designed by Kamran Diba, Farah Diba’s cousin – could be transformed into a sort of memorial dedicated to the martyrs of the revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. It would be better to forget those years during which Teheran was an open city where the likes of Andy Warhol stayed when he painted the famous portrait of Farah Diba, the only work that was destroyed by the revolutionaries. The precious collection was exhibited only from 1977 to 1979 in Teheran. How could, in any case, such provocative masterpieces be left for the delectation of the visiting public in Iran? One above all is the triptych by Francis Bacon Two figures lying on a bed with attendants that represents two naked men on a bed. The work has only been lent out once and that was to the Tate Gallery in 2003. With his tales, the Swiss legal expert has provided us with further key information regarding the history of this collection: “Following the revolution, the country emptied and foreigners fled. The only ones who continued working were the Italians”.
This declaration is the reason for what’s been going on over the last few days here in Italy. Last year, the Fondazione Maxxi in Rome, presided by Giovanna Melandri, signed an agreement with the Iranian government to borrow thirty of the most important works of art from the collection. This will be an exceptional event and is the first time that such a large group of works will be exhibited abroad. At the same time, thirty paintings from the same collection by Iranian modern and contemporary art painters will also be shown. The exhibition will first be calling at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (December 4th 2016 – March 5th 2017) before coming to the MAXXI (March 31st – August 27th 2017).
Among the unmissable works there will be No. 2 Yellow Center by Mark Rothko of 1954 that is part of the “Color Field Painting” series, those large paintings produced by Rothko, the maestro of American Abstract art. Also, Le Peintre et son modèle of 1927 by Pablo Picasso, considered one of the most important paintings by the Spanish artist as well as the exotic Nature Morte à l’estampe japonaise of 1889 by Paul Gauguin.
The precious Histoire Naturelle of 1923 by Max Ernst that reflects the influences of the Surrealist movement upon the German artist and two works by Andy Warhol, Suicide (Purple Jumping Man) of 1965 and the American Indian Series of 1976 are further examples of what is in store.
Tensions Claires by Wassily Kandinsky of 1937, along with two works by Francis Bacon: apart from Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants, the large canvas with Reclining Man with Sculptures is also in the exhibition. Lastly, the highly important Mural on Indian Red Ground by Jackson Pollock will also be visiting Europe for the first time in almost forty years.
Farah Diba also loved Italian artists and along with a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro she possessed in her collection one of the famous mirrors by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Green Curtain of 1967.