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ART+ART: The Avant-Garde in the Streets

In March 1977, Koorosh Shishegaran created ART+ART, a poster he mailed to several recipients including major newspapers in Tehran. The bilingual poster asserts that “K. Shishegaran’s works” are “Shahreza Ave. itself.” The design consists of a thick black line, reminiscent of a road but winding in swirls and tangles, marked as “Shahreza Ave.”; the bilingual text on both sides of the spiral says that Shahreza Ave. “is painting,” “sculpture,” and “architecture,” as well as various other artistic media, including writing and dance. The public’s reaction was one of confusion and, at times, hostile dismissal. In response, Shishegaran wrote replies to the newspapers to clarify his intention: “Some people think that I am showing my works in Shahreza Ave.,” he wrote, “but I am, in fact, introducing the street itself, the people in the street and the good and bad that happens there, as a work of art.”

Compositionally and aesthetically, Shishegaran’s design was unusually minimalist. While other Iranian designers of the time commonly demonstrated their artistic authorship through their palettes—their use of original illustrations and creative combinations of type and image—Shishegaran’s work consisted of plain colors, conventional fonts, and a deductive structure dictated by the limits of the rectangular frame, internally divided into further symmetrical rectangular sections. The drawing in the middle, presumably indicating the movement of a viewer along Shahreza Avenue and connecting the two edges of the frame, eliminates any element of handicraft and conveys a mechanical mode of image-making. The intertwined movement of the spiral and the smooth changes in its thickness convey a sense of dynamism, yet this animation is curbed by the text’s matter-of-fact mode of interpellation and by the jaded symmetry of the overall composition. Shishegaran clearly distanced himself from the “expressive” approach of most other Iranian designers. However, it was less his critical engagement with conventions of graphic design than his radical negation of art as such that made ART+ART striking. By inviting people to see an art exhibition which was nothing more than the street through which many of them passed on a regular basis, Shishegaran launched a campaign against institutionalized modernism, which had been flourishing in Iran for almost two decades. As such, the poster’s reduction of the author’s function reflected multiple textual iterations in the body of the work: that is, that the real artwork is Shahreza Avenue.

In order to assume such a subversive position, ART+ART situates itself somewhere on the borderline of institutional modernism, both within and without it. This is partly negotiated through Shishegaran’s choice of the medium of poster design, which has a peculiar trajectory in the history of Iranian modernism.

In Iran, exhibitions are often advertised with posters by designers whose work is held in equally high regard, to the extent that some galleries occasionally hold exhibitions dedicated to such posters. These announcements are therefore an integral part of the institution of art but have always remained separate from the art itself, which was considered beyond such institutional dependencies. The posters were a part of the exhibition that was not recognized as being constitutive of it. By reducing the materiality of his work to one such poster, Shishegaran occupies a position which is immanent to the institution of art, yet he subverts this position by using it to declare art to be elsewhere.

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