My facebook friend from Vancouver, Mohammad Salemy, has written a piece about the modernist art collection in Tehran. It’s worth a read. The collection is very rich, but right now I’m interested in the abstraction. Stella spent time there in the sixties, and drew inspiration for his Protractor series. He is also friends with Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, a very interesting artist I will discuss here one day. She was married to a senior diplomat—part of the establishment you might say, so I’m sure there’s some good Stella in the collection, but I know for certain there’s a major Pollock. The topic of modernist abstraction in Iran really draws me—maybe because I know some great Iranian artists—and part of the story is certainly the influence and role of this collection. Mohammad says that Iranian artists don’t want it to travel because they fear the works will be seized by self-proclaimed former owners and sold. In other words, Iranian artists value cosmopolitan modernism, and don’t see it as antagonistic to their own culture.
My position on this has two sides. First of all, the meaning and value of abstract art has yet to be determined, and presumably different contexts will have different proposals to make. We need those perspectives. Corollary is that no one can set a limit as to what use Iranians, or anyone else for that matter, can make of modern art. Secondly, I don’t believe that the global culture is western culture, and certainly does not belong to western elites. The global culture is made of refugees, expats, diasporas, students, adventurers—just take a look, it is not western and not white. So it’s wrong to claim that abstraction, with it’s universalizing tendency, is an instrument of colonialism. This is my view from here, peering through the fog of identity politics, surfing the confusion. The Iranian view is what I want to know.