IRANIAN ART NOW
by Ben Davis
"Iran Inside Out," June 26-Sept. 5, 2009, at the Chelsea Art Museum, 556 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
"Iran Inside Out" certainly wasn’t planned to coincide with the outbreak of a protest movement in Iran. But it is impossible to look at the artworks in this sprawling, jumbled, two-floor exhibition at the Chelsea Art Museum -- featuring 34 artists who currently work in Iran (mainly in Tehran) and another 22 who are Iran-born but work outside -- without thinking about what is going on right now in the streets.
Whatever the outcome of the present demonstrations, one of their side effects is that they have torn the lid off of Western, particularly American, stereotypes about Iran. Heretofore, it was all too easy for the media and politicians to paint the giant Persian nation with a single brush. If ordinary Iranian people were mentioned at all, it was in some condescending way, as backward types we had to enlighten or liberate. The combative street protests forcefully shoved another image of Iran onto the world stage -- the image of a country bursting at the seams with lively civil society movements which have turned a dispute between two wings of the Iranian ruling class into an uprising with much wider significance (it’s a bit as if, when Bush stole the election in 2000, people revolted, taking up issues of minority voter disenfranchisement and corporate influence in government)....