Insects get in on the art at Iranian museum


August 26, 2022

Performance art is one thing, but a group of silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) took it to the next level when they infiltrated a framed piece of artwork at a museum in Iran.

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, Iran, issued an apology and temporarily closed to handle a pest infestation.

Concerns were raised after footage of insects moving across a world-famous work spread widely on social media.

A video went viral earlier this week showing two paper-eating silverfish squirming under the glass frame of a 1978 industrial photograph by German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher.

The sighting of the wingless, pearl gray pests “provoked shock and disgust on social media,” according to the Times of Israel.

Insects, which may attack and eat away at paintings, pose a serious threat to the American and European minimalist masterpieces now for the first time on display at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art since the 1979 Islamic Revolution ousted Iran’s Western-backed monarchy.

The museum apologized to the public on Wednesday, insisting that the “proper maintenance” of its prized works “is of the utmost concern to all of us.”

As soon as the infestation became apparent, a news release said, experts rushed to the museum and carefully cleaned the exhibited artworks.

The insects did not damage the Becher photograph or any other pieces. However, the museum said it would close for two days so pest management professionals (PMPs) could handle the problem.

Ebadreza Eslami Koulaei, the museum’s manager, told Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency that experts were closely monitoring the works, because “when you see one insect, you should predict maybe there are more.”

“When works are taken out from their boxes to be brought to galleries, there is a possibility such incidents happen,” he said.

Many of the renowned contemporary Western works on display had been hidden in the museum vault for decades. Iran’s Shiite clerics, who came to power in 1979, packed away the art to avoid offending Islamic values and catering to Western sensibilities.

Iran’s Western-backed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his wife, the former Empress Farah Pahlavi, had built the museum and acquired the multibillion-dollar collection during the oil boom of the late 1970s.

The collection, which includes cubist, surrealist, impressionist and even pop art, has gradually resurfaced in recent years as some cultural restrictions eased in the Islamic Republic.


About the Author

Ellen Wagner is a former digital editor for PMP magazine.

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