Dastan’s Basement | How Tehran is Becoming the Next Great City for Modern Art

Curator Hormoz Hematian is on a mission to build new infrastructure for Iran's art scene

by Niru Ratnam
Oct 22 2018, 6:39pm

In 2012, engineer Hormoz Hematian decided that there was space in his Tehranoffice that could be put to better use. “I had a big office and an engineering practice,” Hematian says, “And I thought perhaps we could have a part of the office where people came to watch films or see a small exhibition.” Hematian discovered he’d need a permit to realize his plan; the easiest to acquire was a gallery permit, which he duly secured

Three months later, Hermatian closed down his engineering practice and opened a gallery named Dastan’s Basement. Almost six years later, Hematian’s enterprise just made its debut at Art Basel Hong Kong with a solo presentation by the Iranian-born artist Sam Samiee; in May, the gallery will show at Frieze New York. The international art world is taking notice of Hematian, and contemporary Iranian art in general. This is in part because the concerns of many Iranian artists—cultural identity, negotiating political and social upheaval—resonate with an audience more interested in political artworks in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world, still navigating an international refugee crisis.

Photo: Courtesy of Dastan’s Basement

Hematian has established Dastan’s Basement representative of Iran in the international art scene, in part through the sheer volume of the gallery’s programming. It’s one of three permanent spaces that Hematian runs in Tehran: Dastan+2 shows more established Iranian artists, and Electric Room hosts weekly presentations and occasional monographic shows; Dastan Outside is a series of pop-up exhibitions. He estimated that between these spaces and international art fairs, he’ll mount over 80 shows this year. “There’s an incredible history of Iranian artists, and many contemporary artists. But there is no infrastructure to Tehran’s art world, limited critical writing, and no discourse around the scene,” Hematian said. “So I wanted to help create that context by doing different sorts of exhibitions, and lots of exhibitions.”

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