Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Buying frenzy lights up Iranian art market

Buying frenzy lights up Iranian art market
Published: Monday, 7 July, 2008, 08:34 AM Doha Time

Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli at his workshop in Tehran
By Siavosh Ghazi
TEHRAN: The prices have soared by a factor of 20 within two years, the galleries are packed with prospective buyers and the works are both modern and daring.
A description of the modern art scene in New York, Paris or London? No—the extraordinary art boom that has transformed the market in Tehran, capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Far removed from the increasingly tense standoff over the country’s nuclear programme and domestic frustration because of rising inflation, Iran’s best known artists are enjoying a huge rise in demand for their work.
“For 30 years no one was interested in us. Today everyone wants to buy,” Parviz Tanavoli, 72, Iran’s best known sculptor, said.
“People have money. They used to invest it in property. Today they see there are other places to put it.”
A 1975 sculpture by Tanavoli, ‘The Wall (Oh Persepolis)’, sold in late April for $2.84mn at a Christie’s auction in Dubai—the highest figure ever reached for a contemporary Iranian work.
The 1.8m bronze block was typical of Tanavoli’s intricate style, partly inspired by the ancient art of the Achaemenian empire, and praised by experts as being more than worth its stratospheric price.
The younger artist Farhad Moshiri, known for his bright three-dimensional paintings of jars emblazoned in calligraphic Persian script, has seen his canvases sell for up to $750,000.
Lesser known artists have seen their work sell at the numerous galleries in upmarket northern Tehran for between $20,000 and 30,000. Just two years ago the asking price would have been more like 2,000.
The boom is another example of the striking gulf between wealth and poverty in Tehrant.
Despite the rise in prices there are more buyers than before. Many people want to make investments,” said Shahnaz Kansari, who heads the Moon art gallery in Tehran.
Amir Hossein Etemad, of the Negarkhaneh Etemad gallery, warned:
“I’m worried that this will prove to be nothing more than a speculative bubble that will explode.
“But it’s true that the prices were very low before.”
Abstract tendencies have long appeared the most popular in modern Iranian art, possibly because of the strict rules governing the portrayal of the human form in an Islamic state.
Iranian visual art also crosses genres in unusual ways: Cannes prize-winning Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami is also a renowned artist whose stark photography is a major draw at Tehran galleries.
One of the fathers of Iranian modernist painting was the poet Sohrab Sepheri, considered one of the greatest of all Iranian modern writers, whose abstract landscapes are true collector’s items.
“We are at the beginning of the road. More and more there are individual exhibitions by Iranian artists abroad,” said the painter Farideh Lashaie.
“Iranian culture used to be known abroad from the names of ancient poets like Hafez, Ferdowsi and Rumi. But painting and contemporary sculpture also have something to say.
“As with cinema, people did not expect to see paintings and sculptures like this coming from Iran. Perhaps this explains their success.”
The sudden surge of interest has also been felt in university faculties with a large number of young people taking art courses.
“This year around 150 young sculptors and 600 young painters will graduate from the faculties of art. Some of them are very promising,” said Tanavoli, who also teaches in Tehran.
Golnaz Afroz, 27, is an up-and-coming female artist whose work draws inspiration from Parisian cafe scenes, and the art boom has given her hope she will be able to make a living through her passion.
Her paintings now sell for between $500 and 900, compared with just 200 before.
“There’s a real art fever, but there’s also no guarantee it will continue,” she said.–AFP

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