Metropolitan Museum to open renovated galleries for Islamic art and culture

Ahram Online, Sunday 25 Sep 2011

The grand reopening of a suite of 15 dramatic new galleries showcasing art from the Arab world, Turkey, Iran and Central Asia at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is set for 1 November

photo: AP

Greatly enlarged, freshly conceived, and completely renovated galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will house the museum's renowned collection of Islamic art — one of the finest and most comprehensive collections in the world. Design features within the new space will highlight both the diversity and the interconnectedness of the numerous cultures represented; multiple entryways will allow visitors to approach the new galleries — and the art displayed within — from different perspectives.

"In sequence, the 15 new galleries trace the course of Islamic civilisation, over a span of 13 centuries, from the Middle East to North Africa, Europe, and Central and South Asia. This new geographic orientation signals a revised perspective on this important collection, recognising that Islam did not create a single, monolithic artistic expression, but instead connected a vast geographic expanse through centuries of change and cultural influence.

"The public will find galleries filled with magnificent works of art that evoke the plurality of the Islamic tradition and the vast cross-fertilisation of ideas and artistic forms that has shaped our shared cultural heritage." stated Thomas P Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum.

The collection comprises more than 12,000 works of art drawn from an area that extends from Spain in the west to India in the east. Some 1,200 works of art will be on view at any time, representing all major regions and artistic styles, from the 7th century onward. Important loans from the Hispanic Society of America will also be shown. (Displays of textiles and works on paper will change frequently due to the sensitivity of these materials to light.)

As part of the reinstallation of the galleries, a team of conservators and scientists has engaged in an extensive programme of conservation of the major objects within the collection, from the museum's remarkable collection of manuscripts to fragile glass objects and rare and precious carpets.

Highlights of the museum's collection include: the sumptuously ornamented Damascus Room, built in 1707, and one of the finest examples of Syrian homes of the wealthy during the Ottoman period; glass, metalwork and ceramics from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran; some of the finest classical carpets in existence from the 16th and 17th centuries, including the recently restored, celebrated Emperor's Carpet, an exceptional classical Persian carpet of the 16th century that was presented to Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I by Peter the Great of Russia; notable early and medieval Qurans; pages from the sumptuous copy of the Shahnama, or Book of Kings, created for Shah Tahmasp (1514–76) of Iran, and outstanding royal miniatures from the courts of the Arab world, Ottoman Turkey, Persia, and Mughal India, including paintings from the imperial "Shah Jahan Album," compiled for the builder of the Taj Mahal; and architectural elements including a 14th-century mihrab, or prayer niche, from Isfahan decorated with glazed ceramic tiles, which would have served in a Muslim house of worship to indicate the direction to Mecca.

To connect audiences of all ages with the collection in the galleries and to enhance their understanding of the multiple perspectives and diversity that exists within Islamic culture, a variety of educational initiatives for families, students, teachers and general visitors will be offered. These include musical performances, workshops, lectures, films, gallery talks, K-12 teacher workshops, an international symposium, panel discussions, and conversations with artists, supplemented by publications and online resources.

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