Monday, November 24, 2014

Art Institute: New Galleries of Islamic Art


Isfahan (Iranian) - Safavid Dynasty

After the Jaharis Galleries of Greek and Roman art took its gallery space two years ago, the Islamic collection of the Art Institute has finally gone back on view.

It may be in a more remote location this time-- but it does have at least twice as much wall space - under the supervision of the former curator of the Islamic wing of the Metropolitan Museum, Daniel Walker.

Have you ever seen the Met's Islamic collection ?  If not --book your plane tickets now!

Unfortunately, the Art Institute's collection is quite modest by comparison.

But we do have a few wonderful things  that dynamic leadership can build on.

Isfahan, Safavid Dynasty

This spandrel with hunt scene has been in the collection for 90 years - but I don't remember seeing it.  

Not as sharp as a good painting -- but this is pretty nice

Designed by Basawan, painted by Shankar
The Young Emperor Akbar Arrests the Insolent Shah Abu’l-Maali,
 page from a manuscript of the Akbarnama, Mughal period, c. 1590/95

The Ascent of the Prophet to Heaven,
 page from a copy of the Khamsa of Nizami, c. 1600

These are two fabulous paintings - especially the Basawan/Shankar. There's not very many other paintings in the entire museum that are at this level.

But you can't see them!

They are set too far back in their cases -- and are  dimly lit.

The display cases are at least 20" deep.
Why can't the museum use the kind of shallow cases it uses for Chinese scrolls ?
Why can't it install user-controlled lighting as are often found in other museums?
If this is the best they can do -- why not just publish  high-definition digital images on the internet, and sell the originals at auction.

Mir 'Ali Husayni Haravi (16th  C.)

This book of calligraphy is wonderful, but also very difficult to see, since it is shoulder high but the pages face the ceiling.  The above view was only possible by placing the camera on top of the case and shooting straight down.

By the way -- this book is on loan from a Cincinnati collector who lives about a mile from where I grew up.

Here's a painting from another Khamsa of Nizami --
 though this one is in the British Museum, and not in this show

These architectural fragments are not especially spectacular

Isfahan-Safavid Dynasty

But this fragment from a minaret is fascinating



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