February 2004 marked the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran. At the invitation of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, the British Council organised the first exhibition of British art ever to be seen in the Islamic Republic, covering developments in British sculpture during the 20th century. The exhibition opened in Tehran on 24 February, four days after elections to the national parliament.
Over 70% of Iran’s population is aged under 30, and this exhibition provided an opportunity for a new generation of Iranians to see original works of British art first hand. Much of the work focused on the proliferation of ideas and materials that have characterised British sculpture over the past century, from Hepworth’s stringed compositions and Gilbert & George’s early videos to Damien Hirst’s use of a real skeleton in his new work, Resurrection, never shown before, and debuting in Iran.
The entire space of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art was given over to the exhibition. The building was constructed in l977, and sits in parkland in downtown Tehran, close to the University. Among British works owned by the Museum are three bronzes by Henry Moore, two of which are installed in the surrounding parkland and have been in place throughout the period of the Islamic Revolution.
The exhibition opened with seven works by Henry Moore followed by a selection of classic works by Barbara Hepworth; Eduardo Paolozzi; Anthony Caro; Barry Flanagan; Richard Long; Gilbert & George; Bill Woodrow; Tony Cragg; Richard Deacon; Anish Kapoor; Shirazeh Houshiary; Mona Hatoum; Damien Hirst and Anya Gallaccio. The final works in the show included a video work by Mona Hatoum (Deep Throat); a carpet of 10,000 fresh red roses by Anya Gallaccio (Red on Green); and a new four-screen video by the Iranian-born sculptor Shirazeh Houshiary, entitled Breath. Each screen shows a sequence of animated drawings accompanied by a soundtrack of religious chant: sung portions of the Azan; a choir of Buddhist monks from Japan; a Jewish song to the invisible God; and Hildegard von Bingen’s Christian composition. A fully-illustrated catalogue was published by the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, with an essay by Tim Marlow and entries on the works and biographies of the artistrs by Richard Riley. ISBN 964 06 4394 7
A number of artists travelled to Iran during the period of the exhibition, among them Richard Deacon, Bill Woodrow and Anthony Caro. The British Council organised an educational programme to coincide with the show, including a bronze conservation workshop led by Michel Muller of the Henry Moore Foundation, lectures by Tim Marlow, Director of White Cube Gallery London and Stephen Deuchar, Director of Tate Britain among others.