Letter from the Editor: Entering the Post-Sanctions
Welcome to the sixth issue of The Current Express — The Business Special. Out of all the previous editions of the project, and even perhaps the still remaining two, the focus of this edition is perhaps the most charged, and yet fundamental to the contemporary art world at large. We are living in an era, where everything is affected by “markets”. Entire cities are built because of economic booms, old districts are torn down, shopping malls are appearing everywhere. But as a side product, the world is also getting infused with cultural projects. New museums, institutions, spaces, buyers, collectors — and archives — for culture are appearing. This global change has not been under-looked by artists or cultural practitioners, historically highly receptive to visualizing and reacting to modern changes as well as actively voicing concerns of maintaining diversity and independence. At the same time, there exists in some way, a truer economic demand for being a contemporary artist than ever before. And undoubtedly the marketization of art and the commercialization of life in general, has quickly become the new reality, also in Iran.
The Business Special looks into the contemporary era of cultural practices and archival occurrences, where the markets, capitalism, economy, advertising, consuming, development and growth have become both subjects and surrounding conditions. What kind works and practices could arise from these themes and conditions in the Iranian sphere, where trade and economy, for the time being (despite the breakthrough in nuclear talks), is still affected with international sanctions while simultaneously hailed out as one of the Next Eleven, the next “untapped” market? So what kind of reactions does contemporary culture produce to counter, critique or explain, the forever globalizing world? What lies ahead for Iran and what kind of effects will the post-sanctions world have on Iranian contemporaneity, artistic expression or the physical and cultural reality in general?
How to Become a Region?
Only this year, Iran has exhibited both in Venice, as well as in the Expo 2015 in Milan. Along with yesterdays breaking news of the #IranDeal, and whatever future prospects it may hold, right now might be a good time to reflect also on the contemporary history of Iran as a region, or a market, in the modern world. For there is a strange, deep connection between economic and cultural interests. And certainly, the general curiosity towards art from the emerging regions and other modernities ever since the Magiciens de la Terre exhibition of 1989 has only boomed. But then, Iranian contemporary culture and its position, is not really a perfect match in this typical construct, as it has not appeared “out of nowhere”, and there is also the pre-revolution history of Iranian global exchange and its cultural products. The “previous” globalization of Iran is in fact the era that has also produced the internationally most established Iranian practitioners. (There is also the culturally productive diaspora, as discussed in the Issue #5). Looking into archives, images and maps of the 1970s Iran are showcased as a country firmly in the speed of the development. It is even presented as a business opportunity for American investments — whereas today, such booklets might be appearing in China, which itself only some decade ago was the target of such expectations. How confusing it ultimately is, to be regional, modern, global and local at the same time? That is the new modern question.
Today in the commercial sense, contemporary Iranian art exists in the Middle Eastern “section” of the art markets. In this regard, Dubai has emerged as the center for the region where auction houses like Christie’s had their first “International Modern & Contemporary Art in the Middle East” in May 2006. Works by an older generation of Iranian artists like Parviz Tanavoli, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Shirin Neshat, Farhad Moshiri and Reza Derakshani, have reached new kind of buyers and sold works at record prices. In her book Contemporary Iranian Art – From the Streets to the Studio (2014) Talinn Grigor discusses, how in some ways, the big auction houses arrival to the Gulf almost single-handedly “made” the market for Middle-Eastern, as well as Iranian modern art. In this regard, the art world, the hard-to-define entity that often is also criticized, has still offered a solid platform in the region for cultural dialogue, building and writing of art histories and even offering some self-reflexivity. At the same time, the material and visual of world of the rising middle class of the Middle East is also becoming a subject for artistic production. It is a global discussion, the commercialization the valuation of art vs. its making and the sentiments of being a “local artist”.
While it has never been under international sanctions to import contemporary art from Iran, the whole idea of an Iranian art market sounds something rather novel. The grand old figures of Iranian art have been exhibited internationally, the next challenges are related to taking a look at the younger contemporary generations of Iranian art. Who are the emerging artists? What are the emerging topics? Perhaps, a more important question is, what exactly will be emerging from a region as it changes?
Perhaps the situation is rather similar than it has been in many other regions in the world as well. Today, the cultural scenes in cities all over the world are fast developing. There are many examples of artist districts being casually born, small galleries opening, gradual private museums and collections entering the scene, new institutions and programs being built and becoming part of the emergence. What are the risks, challenges and negatives of such development? What is there to look out for, in the case similar developments will take place in the Iranian sphere? There is some wisdom in re-reading the archive in this effort.
Outside of the Inside
While the generic rhetoric of the markets is usually that of “growth”, “excitement” and “thrill”, the issue of art’s marketization among many artists is polarized, as a personal calling for practicing art, is not usually a lucrative professional path. On one hand, as an artist or a creative individual, one seeks to reach audiences and be able to support oneself by doing art. On the other hand, money and art are still as much of a difficult combination as they have always been. Ever since the postmodern times of Andy Warhol or Joseph Beuys, the artist, too, has become a celebrated figure. Today, the scene is getting mixed with more star cast members as curators, dealers, collectors and other figures have entered the same party with bright international flair. It is fair to say that the circles of art world, easily give one the sensation of being an outsider, or an insider. It is hard to operate in both spheres. And yet, the search for the next big thing is always happening on the outside of the inside.
The Express Quotes
With each issue, The Current Express aims to seek out to artists, curators, writers, thinkers and other individuals with questions in line of the theme of the issue. For the Business Special, the Express has gathered a small selection of ‘quotes and opinions’ from the surrounding media, reflecting sentiments from art markets, as well as the economic, material and institutional realities of Iranian artists.
Former head of Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Alireza Sami Azar answering a question whether he could foresee a domestic demand for Iranian contemporary art a decade ago, transcribed from a video interview session at the 2nd Tehran Auction 2013 (link)
No no, by no means. The boom of Iranian art market started from 2006 when the first Christie’s auction was held in Dubai. Ever since, many opportunities have been provided for Iranian artists, but the booming of the Iranian art market started from 2006. But even two years ago, it was… out of the question, to have such a big audience, so many people wanting to buy Iranian art inside Iran. I think there is a growing interest in art, also among the Iranian young collectors we can now see a huge potential of a substantial art market inside the country. And that’s good news for the international market as well, because so many collectors will eventually go to the international art markets and try to promote Iranian art outside Iran. Also, many international figures, buyers and collectors will be looking into the Iranian art market and see if they can get works by Iranian artists in their collections. But yes, even a year, two years ago it was hard to believe…
Shirin Neshat on the novelty of contemporary art and growing up in Iran on Art Radar Journal, March 2014 (link)
Growing up in Iran, I was always interested in art, but I had no idea about it because where I lived, in a small Iranian town, I never had access to any form of classic or modern art. In fact, my family has never entered to this day an art museum. In general, in Iran the concept of visual art is still a very new concept. I had the inclination to be an artist, but it was childish and premature.
Artist Soheila Sokhavari on the effects of sanctions in the material and practical side of being an artist in Iran, transcribed from a round table discussion Effect of Lifting Sanctions on Iranian Art held by online platform Vastari at Asia House, London on 30 October 2014.(link)
…the price of the art materials… Most of the art supplies shops are in Tehran. So if you don’t have access to Tehran to get access to art materials, it’s difficult. But the shops don’t have a very good range of art materials, they are limited in number and cost. A lot of artists if they want to buy quality materials they have to go to neighboring countries like Turkey or Dubai… but you know… you can’t carry art supplies like oil paints as your entire luggage, so it’s kind of difficult. The imported art materials in Tehran cost 4 to 10 times of what they would be here [in the UK]…
During the reign of the Pahlavi region Iran imported everything, even products it was capable of producing itself. Since the revolution and the introduction of sanctions, Iran like many countries in similar situations has learned to be a bit more self-sufficient. That means, regarding art materials, there are quite a lot of factories that are now producing supplies. In art shops there are products from Iranian factories, Chinese and South Korean manufacturers, with Iranian being the cheapest. But either due to sanctions given to the raw material or lack of experience the materials made by factories in Iran are not as good… if you buy really good materials in England, say Old Holland paint, it’s based on a metal salt, or your ultramarine will have lapis lazuli in it. Now, these are materials that result in colors that are very vibrant, sort of zingy… whereas Iranian materials resemble a hue of something, because you can’t get hold of the actual metal salt.
Telegraphy is defined as the long-distance transmission of textual or symbolic messages. Each issue of the The Current Express features Instant Telegraphy, a collection of items found in the instantaneous contemporary media, loosely or even randomly related to the theme of the issue.
The Art Market in 2014 summary as PDF published jointly by Artprice and AMMA (Art Market Monitor of Artron). “The global Fine Art Market posted a new record level of activity in 2014, with a total auction turnover of $15.2 billion, up 26% compared with 2013 ($12.05 billion) and more than 300% compared with a decade earlier.”
Website of Tehran Auction, a private initiative auctioning contemporary Iranian to domestic art collectors and the global audience art since 2012. A YouTube video of the 2015 event.
“In old Tehran, real-estate prices have left almost nothing intact” article in the Guardian 6 July 2015. “Developers are sweeping aside everything from orchards to the capital’s 19th-century architecture in favour of rocketing profits”
Economy of Iran article on Wikipedia.
Visual explanations of the security features of Iranian banknotes on the Central Bank of Iran’s website.
The Business Special
Today the global opportunities of doing business and even speculative economic prospects are affecting our cultures deeply. Art is often acting both as a commodity and a counter force in this development, as the effects on individual or the society are getting filtered into cultural practices. Artists, especially in today’s world are susceptible to these changes and are often involved in turning these patterns into cultural images, or projecting their personal involvement in getting caught up with the changing world. At the same time, the commercial world, capitalism, advertising, popular culture, fashion, global trade, shopping and consuming are part of the collective experience of almost everyone. At the same time, it too inspires us. Within these parameters, the contemporary expression can become a tool of dissemination, by portraying the world we live in in the light of irony, historicity and abstraction, as well as critiquing the demands placed on us as individuals.
The Business Special gathers works that survey the recent trends, the iconography and signals of development, signs of marketization, messages or advertising and global trade and even turning historical economic data into images. Included in this special issue are works from artists Claudia Parwaneh Djabbari, Babak Golkar, Arash Hanaei, Farhad Fozouni, Ghazaleh Avarzamani, Sharzhad Malekian and Pezhman Zahed.
Next Issue: Tehran City Guide – 1 August
Tehran City Guide, the penultimate issue of The Current Express will come out on 1st August.