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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
In the heart of the largest concentration of Muslims in the U.S., the Detroit Institute of Arts this weekend is opening a new permanent gallery of Islamic art showcasing exhibits including a rare 15th-century Quran of a Mongol conqueror.
“The Arab and Islamic community is significant enough that it needs to see itself in the museum,” said director Graham W.J. Beal. “Their collection had not been shown very prominently in the previous recent decades.”
Sunday’s opening comes as several museums worldwide are broadening their collections. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is working on a suite of Islamic art galleries and The David Collection in Copenhagen is preparing to close its gallery for a reinstallation. The Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London also boast of major renovations to their collections. And Egyptian officials plan to reopen Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art.
In Detroit, the gallery of about 170 works of art from the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, Central Asia and India was several years in the making. It was to be part of the museum’s $158 million makeover completed in 2007 but required extra time and money.