It was news last fall when the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston announced a five-year partnership with Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and his wife, Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, of Kuwait — through which the al-Sabahs would send parts of their collection for long-term viewing in Houston. They want their treasures seen around the world, as a means of expanding the view people have of Muslims to include its culture. Given so many political ties in Texas (the Sheikha visited George H.W. Bush last week), and with its oil companies, it was natural for the family to choose the MFAH (though having Mahrukh Tarapor, formerly with the Metropolitan Museum and now senior adviser for international initiatives to the MFAH, must have helped).

So the other night, the MHAF unveiled its entry in the Islamic race: a gallery filled with about 70 objects on loan from the al-Sabahs. It can’t compare in volume with the Met’s newish Islamic wing, which attracted more than 1 million visitors in not much more than a year, or with the Louvre’s new wing for Islamic art — topped by that golden “flying carpet” — but still. Apparently what the Kuwaitis sent is choice. The museum’s description:

Among the highlights showcased in this display are spectacular Mughal jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, exquisite ceramics, and intricately decorated ceiling panels. More than 60 examples from the 8th to 18th centuries are on view, made in the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The collection also includes carpets, glass and metalwork, paintings, architectural fragments, scientific instruments, and works on paper.


Judith H. Dobrzynski
Real Clear Arts