From this month British visitors to the Islamic Republic will be also able to see works by Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon and Rene Magritte that have been stashed in basements for nearly 40 years.
A new exhibition at the Tehran museum will display paintings by western artists that were hidden after the 1979 revolution.
Among the most notable works now on display is Jackson Pollock’s Mural on Indian Red Ground, which was valued at $250 million by Christie’s five years ago, Andy Warhol’s 1963 acrylic Suicide, and Francis Bacon’s Reclining Man with Sculpture.
“Farideh Lashai: Towards the Ineffable” features works by the Iranian artist alongside paintings by western artists that influenced him, and also include pieces by Roy Lichtenstein, Alberto Giacometti, the Swiss sculptor and painter, and Mark Rothko.
• Iran’s travel highlights
Some of the 42 western paintings in the display have not left the underground vaults since they were hidden in 1979, but the exhibition will now see Iranian and western paintings hung opposite each other on white and grey walls.
The exhibition could add to the allure of Iran for foreign visitors, who have been arriving in growing numbers following this summer’s nuclear deal and the Foreign Office’s decision to relax its travel advice.
“Tourism to Iran is really on the up, and this is just another reason to visit this culturally fascinating country,” said Jonny Bealby, founder of Wild Frontiers. The adventure tour operator has offered tours to Iran for over 10 years, but has seen demand increase sharply in the last two years.
At a preview of the new exhibition last week, Iran’s Culture Minister Ali Jannati said he hoped the displays would be part of Iran’s increasing openness to the outside world. He told AFP news agency: “This is a first step and we hope to have more mutual cooperation to showcase outstanding Iranian artists as well as displaying more works from our foreign art collection.”
The collection at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art, with an estimated worth of $3 billion, contains many other pieces dating from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, including 30 Picassos, a dozen Jasper Joneses, and at least 15 Andy Warhols.
The museum will add to Tehran’s collection of attractions for visitors, which currently include the jewel-encrusted Golestan Palace and the National Carpet Museum, featuring astonishing examples of Iran’s most famous export. More off-beat attractions include innovative street art and graffiti – including that covering the US Embassy – secret bazaars and teahouses, and some of the world’s best kebab restaurants.
Signs of willingness to display American and European art appeared in Tehran earlier this year, when billboards were covered with versions of paintings such as Matisse’s Blue Window and Mvnch’s Scream as part of a drive by the city mayor to encourage visitors to the city.
Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art is open every day except Saturday, 10am-6pm Mon-Thurs and Sun; 3pm-6pm Fri. “Farideh Lashai: Towards the Ineffable” runs until February 26 2016. Address: North Karegar Avenue, Tehran. See tmoca.com/home for more information.