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News coverage is dominated by the aftermath of the “Innocence of Muslims” film, the French satirical cartoons and just this week, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy’s arrest for vandalizing anti-Muslim subway ads in New York City.
In the midst of the uproar, the Louvre opened its new Islamic wing at the culmination of a decade-long and nearly $126 million project in the biggest change to the museum since the addition of the iconic glass pyramid. The timing could not be better for the country which is home to a large Muslim population.
With art from the Islamic world currently in the spotlight of this world-renowned museum, MutualArt surveys which institutions in the United States hold substantial Islamic art collections. Islamic art provides perhaps the most accessible expression of the complex civilization. A visit to Islamic galleries of a museum can provide a step towards penetrating the history of a religion and a culture that are often covered in the news but are hardly understood. From the east coast to the west, here are five American museums with preeminent Islamic art collections:
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
The Metropolitan Museum of Art undoubtedly houses the premier Islamic art collection in New York City. Edward C. Moore, whose family of silversmiths established themselves in the mid-nineteenth century supplying Tiffany’s & Co., bequeathed the first major gift of Islamic art to the museum of more than 400 objects of ceramics, glass, and metalwork. The Islamic art collection at the Met (pictured right) continued to grow from gifts and purchases, and today holds nearly 12,000 objects from the 7th to the 19th century. Islamic art in the Met hails from as far west as Spain and Morocco and as far east as Central Asia and India, reflecting the diverse cultural landscape in the Islamic world. Only last year in November 2011, the Met completed an eight-year project to renovate, reorganize, and reopen fifteen galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia, in order to keep consistent with current art historical research.
FREER AND SACKLER GALLERIES AT THE SMITHSONIAN
Forming the Smithsonian's national museums of Asian art, the Freer and Sackler Galleries hold a fine collection of Islamic art in Washington, DC, dating from the early 9th to the 20th century. With more than 2,200 objects, the collection particularly focuses on ceramics and illustrated manuscripts from Europe, North Africa and Southeast Asia. In addition to highlights such as 13th century Egyptian and Syrian metalwork and 14th century Syrian glass, visitors find 9th-19th century Korans from Iran, Turkey, and the Arab world. Most notably, the Smithsonian collection possesses some of the most important Islamic illuminated manuscripts, including the largest number of illustrations from the 14th-century Mongol Shahnama (Book of Kings), one of the most important illustrated texts of the Islamic world (pictured left).
ARTHUR M. SACKLER MUSEUM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY
Like its Smithsonian counterpart, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University in Cambridge holds exceptional works on paper from Islamic lands and India, including paintings, drawings, calligraphy, and manuscript illustrations from the 8th through 19th century. Strengths of the collection include Islamic ceramics and Rajput art from 18th century India. Both the collection at the Smithonian and at Harvard were donated by Arthur Sackler who after making his fortune in medical research and advertising, became a major patron of the arts, endowing galleries at the Met, Princeton, the Royal Academy in London, and Harvard University.
DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS
Michigan is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, with the Islamic art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts proving reflective of the community. Currently, art of the Ancient Middle East and the Islamic World comprise about 1,300 objects. Collecting in these fields began in Detroit in the 1890s, including ceramics and metalwork, Egyptian medieval textiles, lusterware ceramics from Iran, Egypt, Syria and Spain, and woven silks from early modern Iran.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART
While the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) cannot compete with the Met in size, the west coast Islamic art collection stands out for a much different reason. Aside from typical galleries of ceramics, metalwork, enameled glass, manuscript illumination, and calligraphy we see across the United States. LACMA began to collect contemporary Middle Eastern art. Although only a recent addition to its Islamic art collection of 1,700 works, present-day artists draw on a rich legacy of tradition, such as Qatari Ali Hassan's and Libyan artist Ali Omar Ermes’ (pictured above right) incorporation of calligraphy in their paintings. Another notable artist is Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian, who uses her art to express herself as an Iranian and as a woman (pictured left). LACMA plans to continue expanding the contemporary Middle Eastern Art collection, pioneering a new focus in United States museums.
Written by MutualArt's Christine Bednarz
Tell us what you think - which museum houses the best Islamic art collection? Who is your favorite Islamic artist? Can art provide a means to bridge cultural gaps?
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