See How Tehran Swapped Its Billboards for Iconic Artworks

Rembrandts and Rothkos rather than washing machine and car ads.

While art world jet setters descend upon the Venice Biennale, and even risk falling into the freezing waters of the canal (see Venice Partygoers Fall Into Canal On Their Way to Fondazione Prada), the citizens of Tehran only have to step outside of their doors to see iconic art, the New York Times reports.

The mayor of Tehran, Dr. Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf—who is also “a former Revolutionary Guards commander, retired pilot, and the loser of two presidential elections,” the article mentions—has replaced 1,500 billboards across the city overnight with blown up reproductions of artworks by Western and Iranian artists.

Tehran is a congested megapolis with approximately 9 million inhabitants, and the artful billboards help to transform the dull cityscape and provide a visual and intellectual stimulus, as some Tehranians interviewed by the NYT attest.

“This really inspires me to for the first time in my life to go to a museum, instead of again going out and smoke water pipe,” a physics students named Majed Hobi told the NYT.

For taxi driver Hamid Hamraz, the billboards have become a conversation topic with his clients. “My usual morning route has become a big adventure for me,” he added.

A municipal coalitions tasked with ameliorating the appearance of public areas in the city, called the Organization of Beautification of Tehran, is responsible for the speedy swap. Mojtaba Mousavi, a representative counselor, told the NYT that the move also had educational motivations: “Our people are too busy to go to museums and galleries, so we decided to turn the entire city into a huge gallery.”

Paintings by Rembrandt and Mark Rothko, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and photographs by Henri-Cartier Bresson, now tower over the city’s congested streets. As for artworks by local artists, there may have been some censoring involved, the article suggests. “Some of the more modern work could lead to objections that we wanted to avoid,” Mousavi told the paper.

The municipal coalition-turned-curators opted for deceased Iranian artists only. The artworks are thus tame, featuring paintings inspired by the Book of Kings, or works by painter Bahman Mohassess, who’s considered the “Persian Picasso.”

While the city’s “beautification” is most likely a political move ahead of next year’s presidential election, the citizens welcome it.

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