The New York Times has written a useful summary survey about art from Iran, the market for it over the last two years and what has been happening in recent auctions.
Artists worked in relative obscurity until about two years ago when an eager market for their work developed. Iranian artists dominate auctions of Middle Eastern art held by the international auction houses which set up in Dubai in 2006. Auction results were hit hard in October/November 2008 but there is still interest.
“Prices for art in the October and November auctions dropped drastically. Mohammad Ehsai, who sold one piece for $1.2 million in April, for example, sold a piece in October for $482,000. Still, 40 of the more than 70 Iranian pieces that were offered were sold, Christie’s said.”
The number of galleries has mushroomed despite the recession
New galleries have sprung up in Tehran, even after oil prices began to plummet, and gallery hopping has become something of a hobby in the capital.Since the loosening of restrictions in 1998, the number of art galleries in Tehran has increased to 60 from 8. At least three of those new galleries opened in October and November. .
and collectors swarm to auction house sales dominated by Iranian works.
” The artists are benefiting from a surge in interest in their work in Iran itself that began after the international auctions lifted the value of their work. At an auction in Dubai in October, the newfound enthusiasm for Iranian art was obvious. About 2,000 art collectors gathered at the fancy ballroom of Emirates Tower Hotel in Dubai for the Christie’s auction of International Modern and Contemporary Art, featuring Arab, Iranian, Turkish and Western Art. Despite the show’s name, the walls were dominated by Iranian pieces and the auction room was filled with Persian speakers.”The auctions always have more Iranian works, by number of lots but also by total sale amount,” said Ali Bagherzadeh, the director of the Xerxes Fine Arts gallery in London.”
Political events in Iran influenced the subject matter of artworks: artists struggled with new restrictions introduced by hard-line religious authorities after the 1979 revolution. Depictions of the human body were banned for example. But there was some political support for art between 1979 and 2005
“the artists benefited from the years when Mohammad Khatami, a reformist president, was in power (from 1997 to 2005) and the government began to actively promote artists, rather than controlling them as it did right after the revolution.
Although the rules have tightened somewhat again under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians have responded as they often do – occasionally breaking the rules in private. Some artists, for instance, have depicted politically touchy subjects, but sell those works from their homes or abroad.”
Iranian art currently on the market is divided into two eras : modern (pre-revolution) and contemporary (post-revolution). The moderns include sculptor Tanavoli who was part of the Saqqa-Khaneh (drinking fountain) school which is concerned with Iranian culture and the Shiite faith and are known for abstract calligraphy works. Contemporary artists, such as Rokneddin Haerizadeh, have developed individual styles and are inspired their physical surroundings and the political events of their time: eight years of war with Iraq and three decades of political suppression.
In an increasingly parched global economy though the auction houses continue to focus on the Middle East as a bright spot despite the recent sales busts in Dubai. Sotheby’s announced that it
will be holding what they describe as “the first ever major international auction series held in the Middle East.”
See latest Art Radar stories on Iranian art