05/24/2012 04:32 pm ET Updated May 24, 2012

'Mural On Indian Red Ground': Iran Confiscates Jackson Pollock Painting

It’s not your average art heist: One of Iran’s most valuable pieces of art, a painting by U.S. artist Jackson Pollock worth $250 million, has been nabbed, BBC Persian reports. By whom?


According to Agence France Presse, the painting titled “Mural on Indian Red Ground” is being held by Iran’s customs service on the grounds that Iran’s culture ministry owes money to customs.

The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art lent the painting to Japan earlier this year for use in an exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of Jackson Pollock’s birth, the Wall Street Journal reports.

But on the painting’s return home on May 11, BBC Persian notes, it was detained at customs, where it has remained ever since.

According to the NY Times, the Pollock was acquired by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s wife, Farah Pahlavi, an avid art connoisseur and collector, who established the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. But only a lucky handful had the opportunity to see the painting in person, as it was on view to the public from 1977 to 1979, but spent most of the decades following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in the museum basement alongside pieces by Picasso, Magritte and Warhol

Condemned by Iranian Muslim clerics as a symbol of Western decadence, the NY Times adds, the collection reappeared for a short spell in 2005 during a “thaw in Iranian hard-line politics.”

But with strained U.S.-Iran relations, and the hassle of actually acquiring a tourist visa to Iran, it’s unlikely that many Westerners will get to see the Pollock masterpiece.

That is, unless they find themselves stuck at Iranian customs.