The Rake

THE ART OF EXCESS

Source: Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, in 1953.

In 1976, the presiding deity of the art world boarded a plane in New York and headed east, having accepted a commission from another presiding deity. Andy Warhol was on his way to Tehran, to create a portrait of the Shah of Iran’s wife, Her Imperial Majesty Empress Farah Pahlavi. They had met at a White House dinner given for the Shah by President Gerald Ford. “The Shah was cool to me,” reported Warhol afterwards in his typical zoned-out, gee-whizz tones, “but the Empress was really, really kind and sooo beautiful.” A dozen schoolgirls in gold brocade greeted the Warhol entourage on their arrival at Tehran airport and pinned pink roses to their lapels. “Then we were whisked off in a limo to the InterContinental Hotel,” said Bob Colacello, the editor of Warhol’s Interview magazine who accompanied him on the trip, “where Andy immediately began ordering caviar from room service for only $10 a portion. He loved that. He did it all day long. He was all, ‘Oh, wow, how glamorous’.”

This unanticipated impression was reinforced over the next few days, as the Warhol party attended a polo match, sat down to a state dinner thrown by Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, “a former film critic who knew everyone from Elia Kazan to Lena Horne”, and toured the city. “The Tehran we saw that summer was a growing, prosperous, modern city, just

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