Iranian American Artist Revisits Hedonistic D.C. HQ

Shuttered since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, this U.S. embassy sits vacant in Washington D.C. at 3005 Massachusetts Ave NW. But thanks to a new exhibit of photographs taken by New York-based Iranian American artist Eric Parnes, the building’s raucous, anything-goes heyday is being remembered.

Parnes’ collection of photographs, shot during a rare, recent visit to the vacant embassy building, are being exhibited at the Ayyam Gallery in Dubai through January 14. The opening night party for the show was last night.

From 1959 to 1961 and again from 1973 through 1979, the man at the center of the embassy’s swirling social activities was Ardeshir Zahedi, now 85 and living in Montreux, Swtizerland. At one point, he dated WaPo columnist Sally Quinn. From a recent Washington Post article by Tahrah Bahrampour:

According to a biography of Elizabeth Taylor, one of many women linked romantically with Zahedi in the 1970s, embassy guests “were afforded their every desire, from champagne and caviar to sexual favors and recreational drugs.”

Photographs from that time show Henry Kissinger, Liza Minnelli, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Andy Warhol and other political and artistic luminaries dancing or sitting on sumptuous Persian carpets with drinks in hand. “It was always such a fun, gay melee,” recalled Barbara Howar, a journalist who attended Iranian embassy soirees and is writing a memoir about Washington during that era.

Adding to the resonance of the Parnes exhibit, titled “Custodian of Vacancy: The Iranian Embassy in the USA,” is the artist’s age. He’s 34, which means that he was born here in the U.S. the same year Iran fell.

[Images, used with permission, courtesy: Eric Parnes]

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.