Empress Farah interview with Le Monde on Tehran Museum and Iranian Cinema

"Give Iranians the means of expressing themselves" Le Monde


translated from French by Darius KADIVAR

Painting by "Mac AVOY 1977 "

Farah Pahlavi, the widow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran,  who lives  in Paris these days, is at the origin of the creation of the museum of Teheran, in 1974.

How was this museum born ?

There were contemporary Iranian painters in private galleries which had started to open in Teheran.  I went to visit them often, here and  there.  It was one of them who told me one day: "Why donít we have a museum where our works could be exposed?" It was in 1973-1974, a period when our oil revenues  had increased a lot,  I said to myself , "it is now or never".  The museum was established in a park where the army made its processions.

My cousin who had studied architecture in the United States, made a plan.  With the assistance of UNESCO, he prepared a few examples similar to the museum of Mexico City which was very well organized, very alive. He also wanted a museum inspired by the Iranian architecture . Light rays from the ceiling which collect the draughts in our desert and turn with the wind. He also made sure that the museum was buried so that it did  not hide the sight of the park.

How was the collection constituted?

We knew that we did not  have the means to buy very old paintings. Thus we concentrated on the modern and contemporary art . My cousin Diba, the architect, had a good knowledge of modern art. He was helped by the galleries and their joint cooperation lead to the creation of the museum..

When we bought those paintings in the 70s, prices were not what they are today. It was still possible to buy a Jackson Pollock's work, or that of Rothko or a Max Ernst. We had good works of each of these artists in the museum. I had gone myself to see the workshop and the house of Henry Moore. We also worked with Jean-Louis Prat who represented the Maeght gallery then. I also remember the three columns of Pomodoro which were to take seat in front of the museum, they were ten meters high sculptures .  But they apparently had not been paid for after the revolution.  They were finally bought by Pepsi-Cola, I saw them while landing where I lived in the United States, in Connecticut.

There are questions of selling some part of the collection

 I am very much worried about the recent debates which took place on this subject in February  in  the Islamic Parliament.  When we first started this museum, I felt reservations by  some international collectors who said: "Why does Iran buy these so marvelous paintings?" It hurt a lot.. As if we had neither the taste nor the intelligence to appreciate them. I know that there are many foreign collectors who  have their eyes set on certain paintings . And these stories of exchanges... De Kooning was exchanged in 1994 against the " Book of Kings ", one of  the most beautiful works of art which existed. But its owner proposed to resell it to us then  in 1970 for 20 million dollars. We refused. He then cut out the most beautiful miniatures which are now being kept at  the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.   Later on, he auctioned another part of the collection. Nothing great is left.  And then De Knooning has been resold for $20 million.

I know people who are still searching for doing business by exchanging those works of art, people who would like to take advantage of the situation for profit.  After the exchanges of 1994, I called the museum as an art student telling them that this collection is the wealth of a country.  They said: "Madame, it is not us, they force this on us".

I have been so afraid after the revolution that everything would be demolished and ruined.  I have heard that at the time of the revolution fever, some people decided to demolish Persepolis.  The director of the place told them: "Don't touch this, this is the symbol of how the Shah has left nothing but ruins behind him!"   Such a political regime, hope won't last for ever in Iran.  One day, it would be possible to hang those work of arts in Iran where they belong.

You remain optimistic?

That country has a thousand-year-old culture. Overnight all was not erased, on the contrary. The youth is educated, they want to live but do not see any future. I was told that 200,000 young people leave Iran each year. Brains, people who have managed to succeed in all domains. But I have hope. Iranians have tasted this system for twenty-four years but at the same time, misfortunes and hardships, have lead them to create extraordinary things. We have artists who are recognized at an international level. Look at the Iranian cinema. When I see Samira Makhmalbaf once again awarded in Cannes, I feel proud. To see a young person, with so much talent...

All this gives me hope. I have confidence in the Iranians. When I designed the museum, it was in this spirit: to give Iranians the means of expressing themselves so that our country will be known  in the areas other than just the thousand year old Persian rug or Persian cat.


Interview by Harry Bellet