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Fifty Years of Collecting Islamic Art
September 24, 2013-January 26, 2014

Exhibition Dates: September 24, 2013-January 26, 2014
Exhibition location: The Hagop Kevorkian Fund Special Exhibitions Gallery
Press preview: Monday, September 23, 10:00 a.m.-noon

The exhibition Fifty Years of Collecting Islamic Art marks the 50th anniversary year of the founding of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Islamic Art. The numerous works of Islamic art that were acquired through gifts, bequests, and purchases since 1963—under the leadership of six successive department heads—reflect the changing interests and collecting trends of the past half-century. The exhibition will feature some four dozen works in all media, ranging in date from the 9th-10th century to the present day, grouped by decade of acquisition.

The exhibition is made possible by The Hagop Kevorkian Fund.

The majority of works on view are of a historical nature and come from the geographical area between Spain and India. The exhibition provides an opportunity to show a number of objects that are not usually on permanent display. 

A highlight of the exhibition will be two beautifully illustrated folios from a luxury Iranian manuscript of the 16th century—the Shahnama (Book of Kings) created for Shah Tahmasp. As is typical of all illustrations in the manuscript, these folios feature densely populated scenes rendered with astonishing detail in the finest natural pigments available at the time. These are part of a group of 76 folios from the manuscript that were given to the Museum in 1970.

A sawn, drilled, and filed section of an openwork-steel ceremonial standard from 17th-century Iran is a masterpiece of metalwork. It was purchased in 1982. The bold yet airy design and the effortless quality of the calligraphy belie the density of the material and the skill required to produce this virtuosic work. The inscription is a Shiite prayer. 

The great tradition of Indian miniature painting will be represented by a 17th-century illustrated folio from the Indian epic poem Ramayana, purchased in 2002.  In the poem, the legendary prince Rama battles against Ravana, the king of the demons, and wins with the aid of the monkey and bear armies. “Rama Receives Sugriva and Jambavat the Monkey and Bear Kings” depicts a central episode of the story: the two kings (richly attired) approach Rama, who is seated in front of a brilliant red building under a sky of gold. Monkey and human observers stand nearby. 

A carved limestone panel, originally intended for use in a building as a window sill or lintel, is decorated with the intricate interlaced geometric patterns that are typical of the art of Islamic Spain in the late 13th to early 14th centuries. The panel was purchased in 2011. 

Several examples of contemporary art—a new area of collecting for the department—will also be shown in the exhibition. Included are works by the Iranian-Armenian artist Marcos Grigorian (1925-2007), the Turkish artist Burhan Doğançay (1929-2013), and Shirazeh Houshiary (b. Tehran, 1955), now living in London. Doğançay’s abstract painting Ribbon Mania (1982) suggests the torn and peeling layers of an old billboard and graffiti on a city wall. This work—which was given to the Museum in 2011—is the first example of contemporary Turkish art to be acquired by the Department of Islamic Art.

The exhibition is organized by Maryam Ekhtiar, Associate Curator, with Sheila Canby, Patty Cadby Birch Curator in Charge, Department of Islamic Art.

Fifty Years of Collecting Islamic Art is installed in The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, which is dedicated to focused exhibitions drawn primarily from the Museum’s holdings. It is located within the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia, which opened November 1, 2011, after a comprehensive eight-year renovation.

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September 20, 2013

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