|Details, architectural elements and ceramic plate.|
While more accurate than just the title Islamic art, which implies that all objects on view are a monolithic, uniform response to religious tenets, the new label is a bit unwieldy. For convenience, I will refer to this exhibit as regional Islamic art. Holland Cotter, whose work I generally love, reviewed the exhibit for the New York Times, but fell into old habits of Orientalism with the title "A Cosmopolitan Trove of Exotic Beauty," and didn't help matters with phrases like "...regionally rooted but absorptively cosmopolitan." My thesis adviser at MIT would have scotched that adverb absorptively, and rightly so. However, the Times has a wonderful interactive feature on the galleries, the Interactive Guide to Islamic Art. Visit it here http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/30/arts/design/20111030-met-islamic-wing.html?ref=design
|Left, textile fragment. Right, wall tiles.|
Although a gallery exclusively of glass, or of metalwork, is probably easier to organize and display, integrating various materials makes clear how artisans from different regions and time periods approached recurrent themes and motifs. For example, in the image above, the wavy vine and flower motif was variously interpreted, in fabric and in tile, by two different designers making specific, informed choices about color, scale and form. At long last, the curatorial emphasis shifts from the craftmanship and beauty of these objects - the technical achievement has long been admired - to the artistic interpretation of recurrent themes and meaningful symbols. Also, this inclusive approach makes the Met's collection of objects immensely more useful for artists and designers working today in various media. The two vine-and-flower interpretations have inspired me to sketch quilting designs for borders.
|Details, textile fragments.|
|The Simonetti carpet, beneath a modern wood panel ceiling.|
|Nur ad-Din room, photo 1975, credit Metropolitan Museum.|
|Gallery, with ceramics, metalwork, fabrics and carpet.|
|Another gallery, with the Emperor's carpet.|
|Page from the Shahnama, or Book of Kings.|
|Reciting Poetry in a Garden, tile panel, 17th century.|
|Image credit, the Metropolitan Museum.|
|Detail, contemporary carved plaster.|
|Image from 1933 exhibit Plant Form in Ornament, with Iznik bowl, real carnations and Italian velvet.|
The newest configuration of the regional Islamic art galleries doesn't have actual flowers - maybe for an Art in Bloom-like special event? However, the placement of objects in newly-orchestrated, rational groupings means that these works, besides eliciting an emotional response to their beauty, can begin a dialog with us about the cultures that produced them. Greater comprehension will make the textiles, ceramics and other items no less marvelous to look at.