When it finally opens on November 1, after a decade of planning, the dedicated 19,000 square foot space for the Islamic arts at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will include a Maghrebi-Andalusian-style courtyard, special doors and glass blown mosque lamps based on ancient designs and an inch-by-inch restoration of “The Emperor’s Carpet,” a renowned 16th-century Iranian rug believed to have belonged to Peter the Great. But who would have thought that by the time the space opens, it would be against such a culturally loaded backdrop? In New York Times, Randy Kennedy looks at the project.
IN one of Washington Irving’s tales from “The Alhambra,” the short-story collection that rooted the great 14th-century Moorish landmark in the American imagination, a poor Spaniard and his daughter discover a hidden chamber deep within the abandoned palace’s crumbling walls and spirit away the treasure inside.
Over the last three years in a suite of galleries concealed from public view on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is as if Irving’s fable of Islam’s rich past has been unfolding in reverse. Treasures, in this case more than a thousand pieces from the museum’s extensive holdings of Islamic art, have been slowly populating newly constructed rooms, taking their places in gleaming new vitrines with Egyptian marble underfoot and mosque lamps overhead, amid burbling fountains and peaked arches framing views of 13 centuries of art history.
When this 19,000-square-foot hidden chamber is finally opened to the public on Nov. 1 with the unwieldy but academically precise new name of the Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia, it will not only represent the culmination of eight years of planning and work. The reinstallation and enlargement of the collection — one of the most important outside the Middle East — also promises to stand as a watershed moment in America’s awareness of the visual culture of the Islamic world, at a time when that world looms as large as ever on the international stage and in the American psyche. more