Famous Iranian art museum closes to deal with insect infestation

Tehran, Iran — Tehran’s contemporary art museum has issued an apology and temporarily closed to deal with a pest infestation, sparking concern after images of insects traversing world-famous works spread widely on social media.

Insects, which can attack and eat away at paintings, pose a serious threat to American and European minimalist masterpieces that are on display at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the Western-backed Iranian monarchy.

A video went viral earlier this week showing two paper-eating silverfish wriggling under the glass of a 1978 industrial photograph by influential German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. The sighting of the wingless pearl-gray insects has caused shock and disgust on social media.

The museum issued an apology to the public on Wednesday, insisting that the “proper maintenance” of its prized works “is of the utmost importance to all of us”. As soon as the infestation became apparent, he said, experts rushed to the museum and thoroughly cleaned the artwork on display.

The insects did not damage Becher’s photograph or any other exhibits, the museum said, adding that it would close for two days so pest control technicians could tackle the problem.

Ebadreza Eslami Koulaei, the museum’s director, told Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency that experts are keeping a close eye on the work because “when you see an insect, you have to anticipate that there might be to be more”.

“When works are taken out of their boxes to be taken to galleries, it is possible for such incidents to occur,” he said.

Many renowned contemporary Western works on display had been hidden in the vault of the museum for decades. Iran’s Shia clerics who came to power in 1979 put the art away to avoid offending Islamic values ​​and responding to Western sensibilities.

Iran’s Western-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his wife, former Empress Farah Pahlavi, had built the museum and acquired the multi-billion dollar collection during the oil boom of the late 1970s.

Sensational art – cubist, surrealist, impressionist, even pop art – has gradually resurfaced in recent years as cultural restrictions have eased in the Islamic Republic.