Exclusive: Secret Iranian Art Collection Features Work from Iconic Israeli Artist Yaacov Agam
by Algemeiner Staff
The Algemeiner has learned that the secret Iranian art collection now partially displayed at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art includes up to ten works of Israel’s highest-selling and most iconic artist Yaacov Agam. In an interview, his son expressed concern over the future of the masterpieces.
The modern art collection which is considered to be the finest of its kind anywhere outside of Europe and the US, boasts works by Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch and others, and was brought before the revolution by the late Shah’s wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi.
“The Empress was visiting Paris in 1977 two years before the revolution,” Ron Agam, the artist’s son told The Algemeiner, “and she saw a very important artwork of my father’s called Salon Agam, commissioned by the late President Pompidou, in the Elysee, the presidential palace of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing at the time.” After doing some research on the artist, she requested to see more, and the Prime Minister of France then, Raymond Barre, arranged for her majesty to have a private Agam presentation at a Paris gallery, according to Ron Agam.
“I was in the gallery with my father when she came with her entourage and she selected a few pieces, she asked my father if he could come to Iran to install them,” he said. “She selected some very early pieces, very valuable pieces, some oil and some acrylic.”
A week later Ron Agam flew to Tehran with his father, spending three weeks of the summer of 1977 meeting Iran’s most prominent cultural figures and touring the country with Pahlavi. They stayed at a first class hotel in Tehran, and attended private dinners and lunches with members of the Royal Family. “She wanted to commission some major public art from my father there,” added Ron Agam.
At the time he says, “They were in the process of building the museum, so some of the art was installed in the palace and some was put away for the museum.”
Following the Islamic revolution of 1979, the Queen fled the country with the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The returning Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the country’s new Islamist leaders took control of the state treasures.
Now, as a result of the Islamic Republic’s expressions of visceral hatred towards the Jewish state Ron Agam is worried about the future of “the treasures.” Although so far, the collection has been safely guarded despite the contempt of the regime’s rulers for western art, according to Pahlavi speaking to London’s Guardian newspaper, a Warhol portrait of herself “has been cut with a knife,” highlighting the possibility that other pieces deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the regime could be damaged as well.
“I am extremely concerned” said Agam, “I would love them to give it to the Pompidou museum or an Israeli museum, which would be an incredible gesture on their part.” He is not optimistic however, “It is so difficult at this time with everything that is going on in the international arena, it is hopeless to think that there will be a resolution to this,” he said.
Expressing some optimism however over how the Ayatollahs might view the work, Agam says that his father’s style is well suited to Islamic tastes, saying, “The art that my father created, influenced by kabbala is totally in sync with the Islamic culture, because it is totally abstract, if you view the artwork of mosques everything is abstract, nothing has a figurative representation.” He also has faith in the Iranian people, who he says might resolve the situation amicably if the decision was in their hands. “I visited the country and I loved its people, it is a great and important civilization,” he said.
The Iranian collection, which is thought to be worth upwards of $3 billion also includes iconic pieces by Pissaro, Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Marcel Duchamp and a number of others, and includes Pollock’s Mural on Indian Red Ground which is estimated to be worth over $250 million. Another Jewish artist whose work is also said to be featured in the collection is Russian-French painter Marc Chagall.
The Guardian notes that before the current exhibition, “the pieces have been stacked in the basement of Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art for more than 30 years, gathering dust in storage. Censors in Iran classed some as un-Islamic, pornographic or too gay, and they have never been shown in public. Others have been displayed only once or twice.”
Representatives of the Iranian regime in New York could not immediately be reached for comment.