CULTURE WATCH — The Tara Gallery in Santa Monica pursues a rare mission: to show works by contemporary Iranian artists, a tricky business thanks to the sanctions against Iran.

Tara Gallery is sponsored by the non-profit American Foundation for Contemporary Iranian Art (AFCIA), dedicated to promoting and supporting contemporary Iranian art and exhibiting work by outspoken artists who’ve been kept in political or social obscurity. While there are prohibitions on commercial shows, the Tara Gallery’s non-profit status makes this artist exchange possible.

With rust, ochre and earth colored tones, along with soft, inviting blues, greens and creams, the current show by Chahab Tayefeh-Mohajer, who goes by the single name Chahab, presents works that look like multi-dimensional desert sand paintings.

This makes sense because his materials consist of board and paper, pigments, minerals and acrylic. Brought together in an abstract collage style, he adds images that refer to objects from archeological excavations in Jiroft, a particularly rich trove of historical objects in Iran.

This combination of elements makes his work easy on the eyes but deeply meaningful. Chahab loves archeology and the effect is to bring together the ancient and the modern, inspiring the show‚Äôs title, “Ancient Meets Contemporary.”

Although he has made his home in France for the past 40 years, Chahab uses art to weave stories that incorporate Iranian influences in a universal context, reimagining and reinterpreting classic art forms such as calligraphy and miniatures through both his large and small works.

Chahab also creates sculptures that feel both old and new, creating iconic and abstract works in bronze and other metals and materials.

When I asked whether Iranian artists are censored, Homa Taraji, director of the Tara Gallery, told me a remarkable story about an exhibition in Teheran, where despite scrutiny by Iranian government and religious authorities, contemporary art is flourishing.

A gallerist who scheduled a show of works by a renowned activist’s daughter was threatened with closure by the authorities. But invitations had gone out, word of the show had spread and there was immense interest in the artist. Rather than shut it down, the gallerist bravely hung empty frames on the wall with descriptions of the art inside the frames – and the well-attended show sold out.

The Tara Gallery celebrates the artists and gallerists who put themselves directly in conflict with these restrictive authorities.

Chahab‚Äôs “Ancient Meets Contemporary” at Tara Gallery has been extended through January 14th. The gallery is located at 1202 Montana Ave, Suite B, enter on 12th St. For more information visit www.taragallery.org or call (310) 489-2417.

CONCERT AND CONVERSATION

If you’ve ever wanted a non-threatening music experience that is intimate, informative, and includes champagne (the real deal from France), high tea sandwiches and pastries from Patina, and an opportunity to engage in conversation with musicians, look no further than Le Salon de Musiques.

Artistic director Francois Chouchan puts together nine concerts a year, featuring works that go beyond the usual repertoire, selecting sometimes overlooked composers whose music deserves a new hearing, or as Chouchan puts it, “masters rediscovered.”

I’d never heard of French composer Jean Cras, whose music was featured on Sunday, December 7, along with a lesser-known piece by the better-known Maurice Ravel and two other rediscovered composers, Arnold Bax and Russian Jewish composer Mikhael Gnesin.

The concert‚Äôs focus on “Expressionism and Impressionism” featured three US premieres. The back stories of the composers‚Äô lives and music are introduced by a musicologist, in this case Julius Reder Carlson, cofounder of the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra.

This is down-to-earth stuff, not a stuffy high-falutin’ spiel requiring a music degree. The story of Gnesin, a Jew who survived and succeeded not only during the Czarist era of pogroms but also during the Communist revolution was a revelation.

And Cras spent much of his time at sea, reaching the rank of rear admiral, composing in his cabin at the back of the boat. Musicologist Carlson thinks he hears the influence of the sea’s wide emptiness, the twinkling of stars in the night sky, and the excitement of seeing land rising in the changing rhythms and tempos of Cras’s music.

Professionals from leading orchestras and chamber ensembles perform. At this concert, harpist Marcia Dickstein and flutist Angela Wiegand shared a spotlight in works by Cras and Bax. During the post-concert conversation, Dickstein explained her personal connection to Bax, and how she came to edit his works.

John Walz on cello, Erik Arvinder and Jessica Guideri on violin and Rob Brophy on viola shone in works by Ravel, Cras, and Gnesin. It was fascinating to see that Brophy uses his iPad to read the score, clicking a foot pedal to change pages.

Find out more about Le Salon de Musiques at www.lesalondemusiques.com.

SECRETS OF PARIS

“City Secrets” is a unique series of travel guides that launched in 2011, founded by architect Robert Kahn featuring personal and passionate insider information written by novelists, journalists, painters, historians, anthropologists, actors, directors, playwrights, architects and restaurateurs ‚Äì in other words, not your usual suspects.

“City Secrets Paris” is a great stocking stuffer for the traveler in your life. Local contributors who share stories and anecdotes include L.A. Times movie critic Kenneth Turan on the best places to watch vintage movies, sculptor George Stoll on the immense sculptural monument La D√©fense, and arts communications specialist and photographer, Carolyn Campbell, who‚Äôs writing a photo essay book on the eternal favorite, P√®re Lachaise cemetery, final home of Jim Morrison, Chopin and Oscar Wilde, to name just a few.

A lovely gift – try your local bookstore first.

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com

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