The pioneering Iranian artist and curator, Fereydoun Ave talks to Abeer Mishkhas, features editor for the leading Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, ahead of the sale of his personal collection at Sotheby’s London.  Ave, variously known as an artist, collector, theatrical designer and curator, was a ground-breaking figure in the development of Iranian contemporary art. The collection, titled Alchemy: Objects of Desire, is defined by a lifetime of cross-cultural encounters, and brings together a treasure-trove of artworks from across continents and cultures. 


Abeer Mishkas: Why did you start collecting?

Fereydoun Ave: I don't know how people become addicts but that’s how you start collecting. You want to build your own environment, you want to be surrounded by things that inspire you and create the atmosphere you want to have around you. You build an artificial world around you of things you like. That’s how it starts and as an artist I need to have things around me that support my fantasy of this vision I have of a world that pleases me.

AM: You have a very unusual mixture of works between Arab artists, Iranians, Americans, Islamic motifs…

FA: Well, I’m that sort of a mixture. I’m Zoroastrian, I live in Iran, I was sent to England when I was eight and went to primary school, I went to America to university and finally returned back to Iran in the ’70s. We lived there for ten years –very exciting years – and then there was the revolution and never a dull moment after that.


AM: Was the art scene influenced by the revolution?

FA: I think what the revolution did was turn everybody in on themselves, especially the country, and myself as a Zoroastrian in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I had to adjust because I was neither Muslim nor Republican. I was just Iranian. And so I started my artistic research as far back as I could go into mythological history, which is basically documented in the epic poem of the Shahnameh. I did a whole series on macho-mystique, the whole concept of this strange, fake, macho atmosphere where grown men are frightened by fourteen-year-olds with guns in their hands and the total uncertainty of what you could do and what you couldn’t do, what it was all about, what it all meant and trying to make sense of it.  Withdrawing from society and retreating into my private world of collecting, building an island around myself of things that I could relate to and the chaos that I couldn’t relate to.

AM: You’ve previously said that some of your collecting was to support the young artists of the time?

FA: Yes, I realised that I wanted to give a certain economic freedom and security to a lot of the young artists who were working in the void left by all the good intentions of the previous regime. I tried, in my small way, to fill that void with the consciousness of being an artist myself. What would I want as an artist starting out? An artist in chaos. So I tried to encourage, nurture and give a sense of security to people who need it to work and a lot of my collecting was definitely motivated by the time. I would buy the complete exhibitions of lots of the artists that I showed in my private space so they would not have the worry of production costs or any of those things.


AM: And what about the art scene now?

FA: There are 197 galleries in Tehran so it certainly is different but I’m not sure there is an art scene. I always think of art scenes as something that is connected but what is happening here is something totally disconnected and individual. I try to put my weight behind people who are trying to do excellent work and if they are after excellence then I give them the full benefit of my experience of these 70 years. I try to encourage what is an extremely scattered, shattered society that needs to come together and I try in my little way to bring as much of it together as I can. I do masterclasses, I do exhibitions. I try to encourage other people not to act as herds but to be individuals and to think for themselves.

AM: You describe collecting as an addiction, does that mean you are still going to buy more things?

FA: I am afraid so, addiction is a difficult thing to get rid of. Even yesterday when I went to three different openings I bought stuff. You see something and you want to encourage [artists] and there is still affordable art around.

The Alchemy: Objects of Desire sale is at Sotheby’s London on 21 April.

煉金術: 現代及當代伊朗藝術

21 April 2016 | London