Günther Uecker Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art – Review

Until the 1st November 2012, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art will be exhibiting a selection of works from German Artist, Günther Uecker, in a show entitled ‘Injuries and Connections’. Having heard much international acclaim for the museum’s previous exhibition displaying Tehran’s huge collection of contemporary art, the largest of its kind outside of Europe and North America, I felt both excitement and pride while awaiting my train on the city’s recently established Metro system.

On arrival, I was greeted by a beautiful building – a hybridisation of Bauhaus and traditional Iranian architecture – which was a highly appropriate choice of space for the capital’s museum of contemporary art.
From outside, the gallery’s sculpture gardens are partially visible to the public with a striking piece by Arnoldo Pomodoro taking worthy position near the entrance. An exciting introduction, I thought, to the large collection of sculptures by international artists that I had heard the museum owned.

Entering the museum cost 500 Iranian Tomans (roughly £0.12 at the current exchange rate), which gave me access to the recently opened Uecker show displayed in the gallery’s nine exhibition rooms. The spaces themselves were impressive, located around the building’s three-storey spiralling staircase. Realising I knew nothing of the artist or his work, I asked attendants for some literature on the exhibition. Disappointingly they had neither, nor was there any information within the galleries on their content as is customary in Europe. As a result, visitors to the show were obliged to make their own interpretations of the pieces guided by nothing but their titles.

A few of Uecker’s wood and nail pieces started the exhibition off, often taking the form of farming utensils such as Implement (On Words) which represented large farming forks scraping back wooden frames which, inside them, held words that the artist associated with war. These words, such as brennen (burn) and stehlen (steal), had been repainted by the artist for the Iranian audience and translated into their Farsi counterparts.

Other parts of the exhibition focused heavily on Uecker’s nail work which I found the most striking of all, in pieces such as Aggressive Field.

The pieces were well lit by the museum, allowing the nails within the artwork to cast fascinating shadows on the canvases which enhanced their menacing impression.

Moving on, the exhibition progressed to show a sample of Uecker’s prints highlighted once again by his nail work.

Pieces such as Strömung gave a greater depth to the artists work, illuminating a softer aspect to the consistent theme of aggression and despair that is currently haunting the Middle East – inevitable war. They showed beautiful patterns made through careful alignment of nails underneath a thick layer of paper, all complimenting each other whilst maintaining their own diversity.

Having made my way through all nine gallery spaces, I ended my venture by taking some time in the museum’s café to reflect on my fresh perspective of the exhibition.

With the single ‘You Are Not Alone’ by Michael Jackson playing eerily somewhere in the background, I came to the realisation that I’d lost the feeling of excitement and pride that I had experienced when entering the museum. In fact, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.

You see, as a stand-alone exhibition I think that Günther Uecker’s show was was pretty well accomplished, it was well executed and amended to fit its appropriate audience. However, in all honesty, my discomfort seemed to be a direct cause of the theme. War. Pain. Loss. Injury.

In Iran’s capital, war is all you ever hear about. The city is home to countless murals of war heroes, and young soldiers are omnipresent on the streets carrying out their duties during their years of conscription. Amidst the currently tough economic conditions of the country caused by international sanctions, most ordinary citizens aren’t happy – far from it. Rapid inflation of Iran’s currency means that living conditions for Iranian citizens are becoming harder to uphold, and the tensions with Israel are escalating the nation’s anxiety levels with the prospect of conflict becoming more and more likely. I guess amidst all this negativity I had hoped that the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art would be my happy place, and all I found was reinforced misery. Iran has a magnificent culture which should be celebrated, yet this can rarely be seen anywhere outside the family home. Iran should be focusing on improving its international reputation, and I believe that better displaying the vibrant arts culture that Iran has could very much help in achieving that one day.

Words: Paniz Gederi © Artlyst