German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMOCA), Iran, 2015. Photo: Bernd Von Jutrczenka/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Berlin museum authorities have cancelled the exhibition of Modern art from collection of Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art after Iranian authorities failed to meet a deadline to issue export permits for loans of paintings by Picasso, Pollock, Rothko and Francis Bacon, the majority of which have not been shown in the West for decades.
“Further delays to the Berlin State Museums’ exhibition plans couldn’t be justified,” says Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, adding that he “greatly regrets” the fact that the exhibition will not now take place.
The cancellation is a setback to German-Iranian relations. The deal to show Tehran's Modern art was hailed by German Foreign Ministry officials as a sign of increasing openness with Iran after the nuclear deal reached in 2015. Originally due to open on 4 December, it was postponed at the last minute because of complications arising from the October resignation of Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati.
A last-minute mission to Iran in early December by Joachim Jäger, one of the curators, and Andreas Görgen, a German Foreign Ministry official, failed to secure the necessary permissions and save the exhibition.
Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie was to be the first foreign host of 61 works from the collection, assembled under the auspices of the last empress, Farah Pahlavi. After she fled with her husband the Shah in 1979, the museum hid its treasures in a basement vault. They have only been shown again in Iran since the 1990s.
Iranian newspapers had speculated that the works may never return if they travelled to Berlin. Some Iranian officials who disapprove of art in general had also questioned the value of showing the collection in Berlin.
The works to be shown in Berlin included paintings by Paul Gauguin, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky and Robert Motherwell. These were to be exhibited alongside works from the collection by Iranian artists including Parviz Tanavoli, Farideh Lashai and Jalil Ziapour.