Iranians gather at American pop art exhibition

Tehran, Iran (AP)

In Tehran, Iranians are the iconic soup of American pop artist Andy Warhol, while Iranian hard-liners, who are now in control of the country, may regularly oppose the poisoning of Islamic society by Western culture. Flocking to the Museum of Contemporary Art to marvel at the cans.

The circular floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the capital of Iran, displays a vast lineup of 18 classic Warhol works at a glance. A silkscreen portrait of Communist China founder Mao Zedong and Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe, a vintage print of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy painting a Campbell’s Soup Can.

The exhibition, simply named a review of Andy Warhol’s work, first opens in June and closes on Sunday. The still-proliferating coronavirus, which killed more people in Iran than any other country in the Middle East, forced museums to close the door to Warholfan in the weeks of August.

“I love this painting,” said Warhol’s 46-year-old Fatemelezai, incorporating Marilyn Monroe’s facial-colored ink produced in 1962, shortly after the actress committed suicide. “Looking at it, I visualized Marilyn Monroe’s life story in my head. It really makes the concept of death concrete to me.”

Retired teacher Rezai, dressed in a loose silk hijab, was fascinated by the exhibits and flew twice from her home in the southern city of Shiraz.

She continued: “His color choices are outstanding and convey to me a combination of emotions like melancholy and death.”

Warhol’s work is one of the multi-billion dollar permanent collections of art stored in the vault of the Tehran Museum. When oil surged during the reign of Shahmohammad Reza Pablobi, the country was in power before the 1979 Islamic Revolution expelled pro-Western monarchies and put Shiite priests into power. He has won thousands of works, including Jackson Pollock.

Iran’s new theocracy first banned contemporary art and packed it with famous paintings. However, in recent decades when cultural constraints have been relaxed, some 1,500 works of Western art from the dynasty have returned to the exhibition with many fanfares. In 2015, the city council of Tehran filled the city’s sign with hundreds of works by the great American painters, from Rothko to Hopper, turning the vast city into a huge open-air exhibition.

Still, visitors cannot find Warhol’s poorer fares, such as his infamous experimental film on display in Tehran. In 2005, when the museum exhibited its entire collection of 20th-century American and European masterpieces, selected works, including Renoir’s nudity, were hidden so as not to undermine the conservative Islamic sentiment.

Nonetheless, the Tehran audience on Wednesday appeared happy with Warhol’s silkscreen printing, which tested legitimacy by portraying consumer themes in the early 1960s.

“People are very welcoming to Andy Warhol’s painting exhibition,” said museum spokesman Hasan Noferesti, who crowded the museum with visitors per hour during the coronavirus pandemic. He said it needed to be restricted.

A visitor, 21-year-old microbiology student, Shahin Gandomi, praised Mao Zedong’s painting series, wearing a black shirt and ponytail hair.

“When an artist portrays a dictator in a work of art, the dictator appears to have been taken down from his sacred position,” he said.

The showcase may be nearing its end, but Noferesti said the museum will soon exhibit Warhol and Western artists.

Iran has no diplomatic relations with the United States and has been hostile between the two countries since 1979, but Hollywood blockbusters and pirated versions of Western music are especially popular with young urbanites.

Tensions with the United States have skyrocketed in recent months as hardliners have taken power in all sectors of the government in the election of President Ebrahim Raisi, a disciple of Iran’s Supreme Leader.

Iran has accelerated its atomic program and negotiations with world powers to revive Tehran’s now tattered 2015 nuclear deal have been stalled for months. Three years ago, then-President Donald Trump rebelled against the agreement and launched an economic pressure campaign that crippled the country’s economy.

But at this week’s exhibition of smooth white walls in Tehran, there was no talk of political tensions or US sanctions.

“There are some great artists in history, and it’s great to see their work here,” said Kourosh Aminzadeh, a 20-year-old graphic student who returned on his second visit.

Iranians gather at American pop art exhibition

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