Iranian Police Raid Tehran Home of Parviz Tanavoli, Seizing and Damaging Sculptures Worth Millions

Iran's most famous artist is locked in a dispute with authorities.

Parviz Tanavoli standing in an exhibition of his sculptures in Dubai, 2009. Courtesy of Haider Shah/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian authorities have raided the Tehran home of Parviz Tanavoli, seizing and damaging millions of dollars in sculpture.

The raid is part of a wider dispute between the artist and the city, which claims ownership over the house and the art inside. More than a decade ago, Mr. Tanavoli, 77, sold the property in the affluent Niavaran suburb of Tehran to the municipality on the condition that it become a museum devoted to his work. It seemed to everyone involved in the sale like a wonderful idea, heralding a new era in relations between government and the Tehran arts community after years of repression. But as quickly as the détente came it was gone. Policies of cultural liberalization were reversed and the museum was closed.

Part of the sale agreement between the artist and city included 57 of his sculptures, many of them bronzes and worth an estimated $20-$30 million dollars in today’s art market. Mr. Tanavoli, who has lived in Vancouver, Canada, since 1989, took back position of his home and its valuable contents following the closure of the museum, claiming the sale to the municipality was conditional upon the creation of a museum where his work would be permanently displayed.

The artist went to court to protect his rights and won temporary custody of the artwork until a final decision was made. But last week a Tehran court ordered the artworks belonged to the city and could be legally removed, prompting the dawn raid during which several unwrapped monumental bronze sculptures were bound in metal chains and hauled out using cranes. Where the priceless artworks are now or in what condition they are being stored nobody knows.

Mr. Tanavoli told the Financial Times in an interview that he intends to fight what he considers the illegal seizure of his sculptures. As for the house? “I will turn my house into a private museum,” he said.

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