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Billboards Highlight Art, Not Ads, in Tehran

Tehran becomes an open-air art museum, thanks to the city’s culturally-minded mayor.

Image by Facebook user Babak Karimi.

In an effort to promote the city’s museums and cultural institutions, the mayor of Tehran exchanged 1,500 of the city’s billboard ads with works of art by local and international artists. The billboards, which line many of Tehran’s busy streets and highways, now feature images of paintings by the likes of 20th century Iranian artists Sohrab Sepehri and Mahmoud Farshchian, as well as pieces by Spanish painters Pablo Picasso and the French artist Henri Matisse.

“When I woke up this morning, something strange had happened,” wrote one woman 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.”

The project, titled A Gallery As Big As a Town, was curated by the local Tehran sculptor Saeed Shahlapour, but all of the pieces chosen were first evaluated by government officials. The project managers appealed to private billboard companies for the right to use the billboards, which will be up for less than two weeks.

“They weren’t initially comfortable with the idea of closing down their advertising business for 10 days but they finally approved to give us their spaces because it was a cultural activity,” Mojtaba Mousavi, one of the project managers, told Khabaronline. “We were free in choosing the works but there was a general guideline. We wanted both Iranian and world art pieces and finally some 70% of the billboards are from Iran and the rest from the outside world,”

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