Almost overnight, more than 1,500 billboards across Tehran were swapped with reproductions of works of art by both Iranian and international artists. Corporate advertisements and government-sanctioned posters were replaced by select artworks, including paintings, Persian miniatures, carpets, pottery, calligraphy, and more. “Our people are too busy to go to museums and galleries,” Mojtaba Mousavi, the project’s manager, told The New York Times, “so we decided to turn the entire city into a huge gallery.” The ten-day project began on May 12.
“We were free in choosing the works but there was a general guideline” to highlight Iranian art, Mousavi told The Guardian. The collection was curated by Iranian artist and sculptor Saeed Shahlapour and only includes works by artists who are no longer living. Nearly seventy percent of the collection features artists from Iran, including Sohrab Sepehri and Mahmoud Farshchian. Prominent international works are also part of the open-air gallery, including pieces by Spain’s Pablo Picasso, Norway’s Edvard Munch, and France’s Henri Matisse.
The municipality has described the project, titled “A Gallery As Big As A Town,” as a beautification project to encourage the city’s residents to visit local museums. “This really inspires me to for the first time in my life to go to a museum,” one nineteen-year old told the Times. “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,” Sadra Mohaqeq, a journalist in Tehran, told The Guardian.
Part of the challenge for event organizers was to convince corporate giants to forego advertising space for the project. “They weren’t initially comfortable with the idea of closing down their advertising business for 10 days,” Mousavi said, according to The Guardian, “but they finally approved to give us their spaces because it was a cultural activity.”
Editors at New York City’s Tribeca Film, who describe the Iran project as “Free Art for the People,” lobbied in support of A Gallery As Big As A Town. “Turning Tehran into a sweeping, de-corporatized urban art exhibition, and, in the process, inspiring on-the-go metropolitans to pause and become active participants in an open-air cultural playground,” they wrote, “is a task we’d love to see our own city attempt.”
See more more pictures of the billboards at the Hamshahri Photo Agency.