Tehran’s billboards are usually filled with portraits of martyrs from the country's long line of wars, quotes from religious icons and even the occasional poster condemning American policies and political icons.
But the Iranian capital underwent a facelift last night, in a project that the city’s elected officials hope will encourage people to visit museums. The billboard ads are gone, instead replaced by artworks by renowned artists. For ten days, images by the likes of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and René Magritte are turning the capital into one big art gallery.
The long highway into the city is now featuring Edvard Munch’s 'The Scream'. Other streets have works by Belgian surrealist Magritte, landscape artist David Hockney and famous Iranian artist Sohrab Sepehri. Driving around the city, the sense of an art gallery is quickly instilled.
In total over 1,500 billboards will display over 700 works that also include reproductions of traditional traditional sculptures, rugs, figurines and other indigenous treasures.
A Gallery As Big As a Town is certainly a fitting name for the project, which has been met with universally positive reaction. Sadra Mohaqeq,a jounralist in Tehran, was enthusiastic in an interview with English newspaper The Guardian:
“It’s pretty exciting. It’s wonderful to see billboard ads of laundry machines or big corporate banks being replaced by a Rembrandt or a Cézanne or a Picasso, what better than that?” he said to the English newspaper. “For 10 days, people have time off from the usual billboard ads just promoting consumerism. It is going to affect people’s visual taste in a positive manner.”
Jamal Kamyab, a municipality official involved in the project to the paper that “Unfortunately people don’t visit museums or cultural institutions as often so we wanted to encourage them to go,”
Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art holds one of the world's finest modern art collections, with original works by Warhol, Pollock, Rothko, Bacon, Magritte and Munch among others.
Yet most of the pieces have been sitting in the basement for years, gathering dust because censors in Iran have refused to let them be displayed for a number of ideological and religious reasons. The paintings are a memory of a time when Tehran was not so religious and more open to free expression and ideas.
All billboards displayed in public have, of course, been vetted by the authorities before they were installed.
The mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, has been widely praised for changing the city in recent years, notably for encouraging more green spaces. His success has led the city to be given more funding by the Iranian government, which has in turn led to a more successful and ambitious city.
H/T to Saeed Kamali Dehghan who was one of the first to bring this story online