After years of renovation, New York’s Metropolitan Museum recently opened its new galleries displaying the arts and crafts of the Islamic world.
In the New York Times, Holland Cotter writes that in “2003 the Islamic galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed for renovation, and one of the world’s premier collections of Islamic art more or less vanished into storage. The timing, barely two years after the events of Sept. 11, was unfortunate, if unavoidable. Just when we needed to learn everything we could about Islamic culture, a crucial teaching tool disappeared. As of Tuesday [, 25 October 2011] the learning can go forward. The Met’s Islamic collection returns to view in what are now being called the galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. The new, much expanded installation — organized by Sheila Canby, the curator in charge of the department of Islamic art, with Navina Najat Haidar as project coordinator — is as intelligent as it is visually resplendent. The art itself, some 1,200 works spanning more than 1,000 years, is beyond fabulous. An immense cultural vista — necessary, liberating, intoxicatingly pleasurable — has been restored to the city. As its title implies, that vista has been carefully thought out and framed. Rather than presenting Islamic art as the product of a religiously driven monoculture encompassing centuries and continents, the Met is now — far more realistically — approaching it as a varied, changing, largely secular phenomenon, regionally rooted but absorptively cosmopolitan, affected by the intricacies and confusions of history, including the history that the art itself helped to create”.
Cotter continues that the “Met galleries convey some sense of monumentality in a few long-familiar works. The great 11-foot-high mosaic-tiled 14th-century mihrab, or prayer niche, from a religious school in Isfahan is one. The intact wood-paneled reception hall known as the Damascus Room, decorated with poetic verses that have been placed in proper order with this reinstallation, is another. Then there are carpets, portable monuments. The Met has spectacular examples. The Simonetti Carpet, woven around 1500 in Cairo and named for a 20th-century owner, is nearly 30 feet long. In dim quarters in the old Islamic galleries it was hard to appreciate. Now displayed in a high, wide room designed by Michael Batista, the Met’s exhibition design manager, and atmospherically lighted by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, its garden-and-lawn colors — rose reds, grass greens — look tender with fresh life. Carpets like this one, emerging from imperial ateliers, are partly about look-at-me largeness. But they’re also about close-up detail, and this is the real story of the art of the Islamic world, and certainly of the examples gathered at the Met”.