Everything You Need To Know About Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar

BY Ayesha Sohail Shehmir Shaikh / Apr 24 2019 / 16:08 PM

Founder Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar shares the inspirations behind the non-political foundation and his future vision for contemporary Iranian art.

Everything You Need To Know About Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar
Courtesy of Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar
Mohammad Khodashenas. I Had a Home, Before. 2015. Acrylic, collage and stencil on canvas. 160X160 cm

Established in the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cote d'Azur, France, Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar serves as an artistic bridge between Iran and the rest of the world. Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar gives us an inside into the foundation and the ways in which it supports Iranian artists around the globe. 

Can you tell me about Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar and the inspiration behind it?

The Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar focuses on the universal code of the art language, working close with select talents and artists in order to bring forth new inspirational sources and a forward looking way of thinking. The foundation also carries an independent mission in supporting selected young talents giving them a voice in the region and on a global scale, as well as the needed support in order for these talented individuals to flourish, prosper and find their place in the contemporary art world.

The main inspiration was to simply focus on helping the Iranian artists, from emerging to established and to set up a market for them in the region which they can thrive on.

Rokni Haerizadeh. Razm. 2006. 200x200 cm. Courtesy of Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar

How do you hope to support Iranian artists internationally with FBB?

The foundation will continue having its series of cultural events in the region from 2020 onwards, having already several successful cultural galas held in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Also, with the upcoming launch of Galerie Behnam-Bakhtiar opening its doors to the public in Monte-Carlo, September 2019, the foundation will include some of its artists into the gallery's programming, as well as participating art fairs internationally. The foundation kick started its fair participation exhibiting three of its artists - Mostafa Choobtarash, Ghalamdar and Sasan Nasernia at the Saatchi Gallery in London last September. The foundation’s permanent collection serves as an outlet for unique works by Iranian artists to be focused on and recognized internationally.

Tell me about FBB’s permanent collection and how it supports and provides a global voice for the exhibited artists.

Over the past fifteen years, the ever-expanding permanent art collection of the Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar has been delicately built with a pioneering spirit, focusing on works that go in line with the primary goals of the foundation. Motivated by challenging stereotypical beliefs and opinions about Iran, every acquisition in the collection was inspired by the presentation and exploration of new ideas and perspectives, as well as creation and immersement into a new universe where a new way of thinking is key. Open to different artistic styles, Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar’s permanent art collection includes the works of iconic artists such as Sohrab Sepehri, Parviz Tanavoli, Shirin Neshat, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Nicky Nodjoumi, Ardeshir Mohassess, Reza Derakshani, Farideh Lashai, Parvaneh Etemadi - to name a few.

Farzad Kohan. King is Dead. 2017. ,Mixed media on wood panel. 150x150 cm. Courtesy of Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar

What are your thoughts on contemporary Iranian art on a global scale?

Iranian contemporary art has always had its challenges especially recently due to the political climate on Iran. Unfortunately, again and again, the Iranian artists, gallerists and art institutions suffer as a consequence. However, Iranian modern and contemporary art will always be Iranian modern and contemporary art as it was shown many times – a good example is the latest Christie’s sale held in Dubai on March 23rd. I think it is also important to point out that even though all these challenges are imposed on the Iranian art scene and its players, our artists due to the quality of their work and their profiles on a global scale have managed to reach great heights, being represented by leading galleries internationally, delivering noteworthy museum and gallery exhibitions, obtaining great sales results during leading public auctions, and much more. I think that the Iranian art movement will continue to grow no matter how hard it gets challenged by external factors as has been shown in the past, and we are here along other galleries and institutions to ensure that.

What is your perspective of the Iranian art market in the South of France and Central Europe?

The interest and curiosity about Iranian art in the South of France and Monaco has been great. As the first and only local organization focusing only on Iranian art in the south of France, we have had lots of interest in the artists we are working with, resulting in numerous sales of their works and placement into private collections in the region as well as internationally. We are also very excited to have the Galerie Behnam-Bakhtiar opening it’s first space in the principality of Monaco in September as the space will also help further the foundation’s activities in supporting Iranian art in the region and in central Europe through exhibitions and participations in fairs. I think, with time, once the Iranian art market gets more established in the south of France and Monaco, it will be a fantastic niche for Iranian artists to strive and the foundation will help make that happen.

Reza Derakshani. Faith Blue. Crowns and Skulls. 2016. Oil on canvas. 183x152 cm. Courtesy of Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar

Babak Kazemi won the Behnam-Bakhtiar award entitled Future. Iran. in 2017. What does this award represent?

Every change starts with a vision - exploring ideas, inviting possibilities, and planting seeds for a better future. This visionary spirit is what inaugurated the First Edition of the BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR AWARD, (Future. Iran.) in 2017 focused on Iran, its people and inspiration for new generations to come, while opposing the image of a culture and country that is too often misplaced, misunderstood and criticized.

Babak Kazemi’s series of works consisting of an assortment of traditional Iranian doors with superimposed images and glass negatives (painstakingly handmade) won first prize. The series addresses issues of migration, exile, and displacement, as well as notions of home. According to the artist — Iran is in danger of succumbing to lest its children who continue leaving the country, and those who have already left not to return. It is Babak’s belief that the true place of all Iranian émigrés is their ancient homeland; it is there that they are most needed, and where they must play their role, together with their compatriots, in fashioning a brighter future for Iran (via Joobin Bekhrad – a jury member of Future.Iran.). Babak Kazemi will be awarded a solo exhibition at the Galerie Behnam-Bakhtiar in Monte-Carlo in December 2019. Parham Peyvandi was awarded second place and Morvarid K third. They will both be part of a group exhibition late 2019.

Nasser Assar. L'Oiseau Persan. 1958. Oil on canvas. 93x65 cm.

Who are some of the key artists represented by FBB and why?

One focus is on artist Mostafa Choobtarash, whose unique works and approach has a similar attitude to graffiti art with traits such as sharp criticism, protest, humour and even destruction. The main theme of his paintings gives one the impression that all the depicted historical, political and social characters, events, elements and symbols have been attacked by a humorous blow, relieving the audience from their heavy load and allowing them to see the scenes in a comical manner.

Farzad Kohan, with colourful works and witty messages behind his panels, creates an enjoyable yet serious and refined experience for the audience. His paintings explore themes such as love, migration, and identity, and often incorporate appropriate media and found objects. Partially inspired by his personal history and surroundings, Kohan places an emphasis on form, allowing the successive stages of art making to become analogous to diasporic experience, as diverse, sometimes opposing, elements are sampled, brought together and accumulated. These visible stages are integral parts of each finalised work. Kohan’s formalistic process is revealed, for example, as he layers, then strips his abstract works through painting, collage, décollage, and sanding, creating built-up yet weathered surfaces that are at once chaotic and methodical. Allusions to the passage of time, gradual transformations, and hidden narratives are found in the tactile details of his treated panels.

Mostafa Choobtarash. Untitled. 2014. Oil and acrylic. 200x170 cm. Courtesy of Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar

Mohammad Khodashenas is known for his unique approach with his pop canvases in bright colours and texts layered with figural imagery such as faces of famous historical figures. The works appear as pastiches of various forms, styles and techniques. The viewer is challenged to find meaning amongst the letters, words and iconic images, all of which conspire to obfuscate a decipherable narrative. The sense of chaos in Khodashenas’ work imbues the paintings with urgency and tension, which are reflected in their somewhat rough aesthetic. Nicknamed MAMI, the artist has had numerous exhibitions in Iran, the Middle East and Europe and has shown his works alongside well-known forefathers of the movement, including American artist Seen, aka Richard ‘Richie’ Mirando, and French pioneers Paul Alexis, Blek Le Rat and Charles Munka.

Farideh Lashai. Iran. 140x140 cm. 2011.
 Acrylic, oil and graphite on canvas. Courtesy of Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar

Ghalamdar, who has been growing exponentially under the wings of the foundation during the last two years with his new take on miniature paintings, is a former graffiti artist who remarkably challenged the dominant pictorial material of Iranian street art aiming for developing an aesthetic with particular Iranian markers between the years 2006 and 2015. He is interested in the trauma of how history unfolds. He believes through different stages of life he has always received, and been subjected to, authoritative mega narratives. Therefore, he studies history hoping to find alternative readings from events in order to unlearn the given, in order to find ‘truth’. His practice navigates around the notion of rewiring the self, unlearning and relearning, in order to acquire other possibilities.

Discuss some of the ideas and perspectives that inspired the acquisitions.

It is all in the work subject, their quality, message and aesthetics, as well as their approach on how they convey values which are important to the foundation. We acquire works from established to artists including Sohrab Sepehri, Sadegh Tabrizi, Parviz Tanavoli, Nicky Nodjoumi, Rokni Haerizadeh, Parvaneh Etemadi, Reza Derakshani, Farideh Lashai, Nasser Ovissi, Nasser Assar, Jafar roohbakhsh, Shirin Neshat, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Farzad Kohan, Ghalamdar, Bahram Dabiri, Mohammad Khodashenas, Ali Nassir, Henry Dallal, Djamil Kamangar, Massoud Arabshahi to name a few. In a way, once we know at first sight that a work belongs to the foundation’s permanent collection, it usually ends up there. It is like love at first sight, so to speak.

Sohrab Sepehri.Untitled. Circa. 1960s. Oil on canvas.132x90 cm. Courtesy of Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar

How do you hope your work will contribute to a global understanding of Iran? (challenging current beliefs and stereotypes about Iran through the art)?

Via the artistic and cultural language, I am hoping that with the effort put in our region and in central Europe, we can help the world have a better understanding of Iran, its art and culture, the Iranian people and their values, to better challenge the stereotypical beliefs put in place against the reality of what our culture is all about. We have already had a series of successful galas and events held in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the last one being Voyage a Travers l’Iran where we held an exhibition of Iranian master artists and a 200 people gala dinner in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, with multiple performances by celebrated musicians and performers such as the Pejman Tadayon Ensemble, Mahmoud Schricker, Rana Gorgani, and more. I think there is great value in supporting and preserving our rich heritage behind for our future generations to come.

Reza Derakshani. Spring Hunt. 2015. Oil on canvas. 183x122cm. Courtesy of Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar

Can you tell me about the upcoming Galerie Behnam-Bakhtiar in Monte-Carlo and the inspiration behind it?

Galerie Behnam-Bakhtiar is a contemporary gallery in the heart of the principality, in Monte-Carlo, showing modern and contemporary art, as well as design objects from international established to emerging artists under the direction of Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar in partnership with some of the leading names of the contemporary art world. The inspiration behind the gallery was to establish an international gallery and art hub in Monte-Carlo which aims to provide an artistic platform in the principality and the Côte d’Azur. The gallery will be at the forefront of contemporary and modern art, as well as design aiming to fulfil the requirements of the region’s abundant collectors, art and design lovers.

Press play to explore the Middle Eastern art scene with Bazaar Art