Today in Met History: September 14

Barbara File
September 14, 2010

Above: Banner at the entrance to the exhibition INDIA!, on view September 14, 1985–January 5, 1986

«INDIA!, an exhibition of the art of India from the fourteenth through the nineteenth century, opened on this day in 1985 as part of a nationwide Festival of India jointly organized by the Government of India and the Indo-U.S. Sub-commission on Education and Culture.» As described by The New York Times, the festival "provided New Yorkers with a wider and more intense exposure to India's cultural history than any but the most privileged Indians could hope for in a lifetime" ("Growing up with the Arts of India," 9/1/85). It included concerts and dance performances at Lincoln Center and other venues, an exhibition of photographs at the American Museum of Natural History, an exhibition of terracotta sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum, a film series at the Museum of Modern Art, the presentation of contemporary Indian designs at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, and an exhibition of Kushan sculpture and art from the court of the sixteenth-century emperor Akbar at the Asia Society.

Curated by Stuart Cary Welch, the Museum's consultant for Islamic Art, the exhibition at the Metropolitan brought together 350 works of art—consisting of paintings, sculptures, jewels, wall hangings, and a magnificent red and gold seventeenth-century imperial tent—and was accompanied by a beautiful catalogue with label information that New York Times reviewer John Russell characterized as "amusing" and "pertinent" ("India!, Festival of Fabled Art at the Met," 9/13/85).

Above: A Royal Tent, Mughal, mid-17th century, Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Fort, Jodhpur, on loan from Maharaja Sri Gaj Singhiji II of Jodhpur

INDIA! was notable for its momentous assemblage of loaned works of art, coordinated by Mahrukh Tarapor, who was subsequently appointed by Director Philippe de Montebello to supervise the Museum's entire program of exhibitions. The show also included many remarkable objects from the Met's own collection, including three beautiful daggers:

Above, from left to right: Dagger, early 17th century. Indian. Gold, rubies, green glass, steel. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, 1984 (1984.332); Dagger, 17th century, India, reign of Shah Jahan (1628–58). Hilt: nephrite; carved Blade: steel. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Alice Heeramaneck, in memory of Nasli Heeramaneck, 1985 (1985.58a, b); Dagger, ca. 1640. India, Mughal period (1526–1858). Watered steel blade, carved nephrite. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Spear Jr., Gift, 1982 (1982.321)

A related exhibition presented by the Metropolitan's Costume Institute in December 1985, Costumes of Royal India, was also a part of the nationwide festival. Organized by the amazing and whimsical Diana Vreeland (who famously said "Pink is the navy blue of India"), the exhibition was accompanied by the book A Second Paradise, written by Naveen Patnik and edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The costumes on view illustrated the riches of the fabled courts of India and demonstrated the diversity of the Indian states. The exhibition included more than 150 complete royal costumes and a lifesize, fabricated elephant, complete with howdah, beautifully decorated and adorned with jewels. Visitors to the galleries were dazzled.

Above: Gallery 46 from the Costumes of Royal India exhibition, on view December 20, 1985–August 31, 1986

On July 28, 1982, three years before the opening of INDIA!, India's prime minister, Indira Gandhi, visited the Metropolitan as her first stop on one particular visit to the United States. In remarks that she gave that day she spoke of her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had been a great believer in museums and would often deposit her in one when he went to a conference, questioning her later on what she had seen. She looked back on those visits with great satisfaction, and at the same time eagerly anticipated what the Met's exhibition of Indian art would accomplish. As she said, "Every major exhibition of the Metropolitan has set high professional standards and become a cultural event, and I am sure that the one you are planning on India will arouse the interest of Americans, forging sympathy between India and U.S. sensibilities." Tragically, Prime Minister Gandhi did not live to see her sentiments come to fruition; INDIA! was dedicated to her memory.

Barbara File is archivist in the Museum Archives.

Barbara File

Barbara File is an archivist in the Museum Archives.