The Iranian government replaced the director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) last week after an aerial performer flubbed their performance above a cherished museum installation.
On March 12, the artist fell while performing above the famed 1977 installation Matter and Mind by the Japanese artist Noriyuki Haraguchi in the atrium of the museum. The installation consists of a 14 feet by 21 feet rectangle filled with 1,190 gallons of oil. During the performance, the acrobat splashed into the oil and stained the floor with the thick liquid.
Two days later, Iran’s deputy culture minister for artistic affairs, Mahmud Salari, announced that Ebadorreza Eslami-Kulai had been named as the new director of TMoCA. The incident was not referred to by the government. In a statement posted on Instagram, the museum said it regretted the incident and promised to restore the sculpture.
“The event has not caused the destruction of the installation…part of the performer’s body hit the oil, causing some oil to spill, which will be replaced. Preservation of the museum’s works of art is one of the main tasks of the museum,” the statement read. “We hope that with greater accuracy and sensitivity, we will not see such mistakes in the future,” it added.
TMoCA has not responded to a request for comment.
The aerial performance by Yaser Khaseb was titled Cat of the Silk Road and was part of the opening program for the exhibition, “Panj Ganj,” honoring the 12th-century Iranian poet Nizami Ganjavi.
Videos the artist later posted to his Instagram account show the accidental plunge. Khaseb can be seen suspended upside down from a rope attached to the museum’s ceiling, his hands hovering above the artwork. A collaborator standing on the edge of the pool swings Khaseb backward, causing the artist’s upper body to skim the glassy surface of the liquid. He is lifted upwards, groaning, and seemingly attempts to continue the performance until he is lowered to the floor before the stunned audience, which offers a tentative round of applause.
In an Instagram post, Khaseb said that the focus should be on the spontaneity of performance art, not preservation.
“[A] work of art can be reborn in contact with other works,” Khaseb said, adding that “from the interaction between two works, a new work can be produced.”
An earlier version of the sculpture by Haraguchi was installed at the TMoCA in 1977, following the debut of the original work, titled Oil pool, at the the sixth edition of Documenta in Kassel, Germany that same year. Haraguchi, who died in 2020, visited the museum on the 40th anniversary of its arrival in Tehran to help restore the artwork. He noted then that of the 20 oil pools he installed in sites across the world, TMoCA’s was the only edition still standing.