There was nothing particularly regal in his bearing, but there was something distinctly shah-like in the way he was spending money.
Enthroned in a two-room suit at the Embassy Row Hotel in his beard and jeans, Frederick Haden Jr., 25, owner of Washington's newest, poshest and no doubt most expensive art gallery, was ordering up platters of ripe melon and French pastries for visiting press.
Between animated pronouncements on how and why he was doing all this - "The bottom line is art; the bottom line is cultural exchange" - Haden excitedly fielded phone calls from his gallery a block away, at the new 11 Duppont Circle Building. The Haden-Zand Gallery - "the first in the world, the first in the universe!" to specialize in contemporary Iranian art, outside of Tehran - was about to open without him. Haden had broken his ankle in front of the gallery last week, and was stuck in bed with a cast up to his hip.
"I may not even be able to go to the opening>" he said in his seemingly all purpose upbeat tone. Meanwhile, despite his absence, things at the gallery seemed to be coming together in time for the Tuesday night grand opening which Ardeshir Embassy of Iran, had, not-surprisingly, agreed to co-host.
There were friends, aides and hired hands all over the place, putting up lights, hanging paintings and handling public relations. In addition five of the seven featured by Iranian artists had flown in - or had been flown in - from Tehran, Paris and New York to help install the inaugural show and attend the opening.
Back at the hotel, there were still more retainets, one who showed visitors to Handen's suite, and others who waited quietly while a reporter kept asking where all this money was coming from. Since the Iranians had launched a ckltural offensive over the past few years, with a big, government-sponsored show of contemporary Iranian art at last year's Basel Art fair and another at the Washington Art-Fair this year, it seemed logical and likely that gallery of contemporary Iranian art was the latest menifestations, and an Iranian-backed eventure.
"There ie no Iranian money involved," Haden insisted, "and there are no foreign investors. This should not be construed as a political event.
If it is, I'll be very disappointed. It's much more profound than that."
Profound, political or penalty for profit, where was all the money coming from? Not only was this very expensive gallery space - four figures monthly - but various income guarantees have been made with some of the artists. This was not your typical Washington art gallery, most of which operate on a shoestring and the used shoestrings of friends.
Haden finally said, 'It's mostly my money. I have two other backers, but I'm the biggest. I was the inspiration and I have completwe control of the corporation." He offered some Hershey's kisses from a baghe had stashed by his bed. "I'm just your normal, average American boy who's been misering money away till I could do something I really wanted to do . . . Take a handfull he intejected, "I don't really like them . . . I have enough backing to last till I can break even. The bottom line is break even."
"But my goals go far beyond just opening a gallery and selling art," he hastened to add, lighting another cigarett. "I know the work is a little derivative now, but I'm working with raw talent. Iran is changing socially and politically, and I see fabulous things in the way of art coming out of the Middle East within the next few years. I'm just putting a fire under them.
"I'd be lying," he admitted, "If I said I didn't care about money. I stand to lose an arm. I've already lost a leg." He touched his cast and groaned.
Haden had done a market survey before opening his gallery in Washington, his hometown since he was 12 and his lawyer father moved here from Richmond. "I've never had any formal training in art," he says, "though I've dabbled in things like writing and film." After Culver Academy and VPI, where he studied biology and sociology, Haden worked on contract, developing administrative procedures for various private organizations.
"I know it's corny," he adds, with some precision," but Iwas a young man in search of a dream." Precisely what that dream was about wasn't clear even to Hoaden until two years ago, when it began to focus on Iran. Last year he went to Tehran for the first time to check out the art scene.
In Tehran, he found the 1 1/2-year-old old Zand Gallery, which he says shows "the best and most progressive art in Iran. It took me a while to convince them, but they finally agreed to collaborate." Mrs. Homa Zand, who shows Andy Warhol, Paul Jenkins and other American hotshots, as well as Iranians, agreed to preselect the art Haden will show here. Technically, Zand does not own any part of the gallery. Who will pay shipping and insurance for all that art, however, is not clear.
But why Washington? Why not New York? "I was afraid I'd be eaten alive in New York," he conceded, "but I decided on Washington because I fell it's ready. I'm trying to draw international attention here. I've tapped into the international market, and I think Washington is ready for that. I want Washington to become competitive on the international level. I'm on the Washington team."
His teammates, the other art dealers in town no doubt will be both pleased and surprised at the new. Until his gallery opened on Tuesday, virtually none had heard of Fred Haden.
The Haden-Zand Gallery did open Tuesday evening, and Fred Haden was there in a wheelchair, shirt and tie. His face was pale with exhaustion. His toes, similarly pale, protruded helplessly from his heavy cast. With his metral-rimmed glasses and slight beard, he looked like an elongated version of Toulouse-Lautrec.
But his speech was as excited as ever. "We've been mobbed," he said, "and people seem to like the gallery." Did he sell anything?"Just a few things, but people said they would come back." How many ambassadors showed up? He looked helpless. "I really don't know, apart from Zadhedi and the ambassador of Saudi Arabia," From the string of diplomatic cars double-parked outside, there would seem to have been more than a few diplomats present.
It was hard not to notice, however, that there were several dark-eyed and very beautiful Iranian women present, one of whom was Haden's associate, the elegant Homa Zand, in from Tehran for the opening.
She revealed that she had Haden will launch another joint venture this fall in Houston. And after this? "Who knows?"
Topping off the crowd, however, was Andy Warhol who stopped by to till his Iranian connections, after a White House reception. Warhol recently completed a $25,000 porfrait of Empress Farah. If he noticed the Warhollike work of Rafael Mahdavi, he didn't show it.
Much of the art is highly reminiscent of American art of the '60s and '70s, from Pop to photorealism. But it is interesting, not only as art, but as an expression of where contemporary Iranian culture stands. It also provides a look at how contemporary Iranian artists are absorbing and transforming a 2,500-year-old culture into the modern vernacular. It is incomparably better than the previous show of contemporary Iranian art here or in Basel. Prices range from $450 to $6,500.
As the crowd thinned, and the hard core braced for an after-opening dinner upstairs at the Big Cheese, Haden looked positively caved in. But his voice remained exuberant.
"Look what I've got!" he said, gingerly pulling up his pants leg to reveal a broad expanse of white plaster cast. Upon the cast was emblazoned one splendiferous autograph," that of Andy Warhol. "Just think," said Haden, "if all this doesn't work out, I can always sell my cast and get rich."