The advent of large-scale advertising has forever changed metropolitan landscapes. Walk down any street in any city and one is sure to be bombarded with massive images of cars, perfume, fast food restaurants, upcoming films… and just about any commodity imaginable. Despite the fact that most people don’t pay explicit attention to the billboards littered around their city, advertising has a way of getting into one’s subconscious – consumerism makes us clamor for ‘things’ rather than critical thought. But, what would happen if a metropolitan city were to replace their advertisements for art?
The city of Tehran is doing just that. From May 6 through May 16th, the billboards of Tehran will showcase over 1,500 international works of art, rather than the usual advertisements of gadgets and appliances. For 10 days, the mayor of Tehran, Dr. Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, together with the Organization of Beautification of Tehran [responsible for decorating walls, parks and other public spaces, including billboards] have turned the very city of Tehran into an art gallery. Massive billboards plastered with Persian miniature paintings, images of Iranian carpets, scenes inspired by the Shahnameh [Ferdowsi’s epic poem, The Book of Kings], works by Sohrab Sepehri, Bahman Mohassess, Mahmoud Farshchian, but also Munch’s The Scream and Magritte’s The Son of Man. Works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mark Rothko, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Picasso, and hundreds of other artists.
The response has been hugely positive: The Guardian reports on comments from the Iranian public in Tehran —
Sadra Mohaqeq, an Iranian journalist with the reformist Shargh daily in Tehran, was delighted.
“It’s pretty exciting. It’s wonderful to see billboard ads of laundry machines or big corporate banks being replaced by a Rembrandt or a Cézanne or a Picasso, what better than that? […] For 10 days, people have time off from the usual billboard ads just promoting consumerism. It is going to affect people’s visual taste in a positive manner.”
Mohammad Babaee, another Tehrani citizen, said he was delighted to see works he had never seen before. “I had never heard of Barge Haulers on the Volga but now I get to see a big picture of it every day in Hemmat highway.”
Elaheh Khosravi said she had to rub her eyes twice in disbelief. “When I woke up this morning, something strange had happened,” she wrote on the Iranian news website Khabaronline. “I thought I was dreaming, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Tehran had turned into a museum.”
Shargh said the art had transformed Tehran into a giant canvas. “This is a very commendable move. It’s a festival of colour and movement,” it wrote.
Whatever the purpose, it’s quite an amazing feat – one that brings inspiration and conversation to the public and makes for an altogether heightened aesthetic city experience.