The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s New Islamic Galleries: a Preview

This gallery offers a few crowd pleasers in the form of the dagger seen in the foreground here and a painting of a bat with very noticeable genitals, curiously absent from this picture. Luckily, that image is available over at Jerry Saltz's Facebook page.
Off camera here is a flag bearing a scissor-like double sword standard. Our curatorial tour leader described its use as related to "when men are drinking."
Safavid and Later Iran (16th-20th centuries)
Of the many rugs that adorn the new galleries, Islamic curator Sheila Canby said to a camera crew: "They make you want to sit down on them and touch them. Hopefully, people won’t."
The ceiling in this room is ornate and gold-painted, so eye-grabbing that it became odd when our curatorial tour leader didn't address it. "This marble comes from Turkey and out there is sandstone from India, so we tried to represent various countries of the Islamic world," she said instead. Finally an old woman in the group spoke up: "But what about the ceiling?" "The ceiling is not Ottoman," said the tour leader, lowering her voice slightly. "It is from Spain. It’s not really Islamic in that sense, it’s more 16th century." She paused and brightened. "But it’s a very good example of what we call the 'continuity' of Islamic art."
This room, we were told, is a complete recreation of an 18th-century reception room, not unlike the Frank Lloyd Wright living room in the American wing. "Can I use a flash?" asked the critic Lee Rosenbaum, brandishing a digital camera. A curator, who had been using a flashlight to point out various elements of the room, looked down at the flashlight and then looked up at Ms. Rosenbaum. “I don’t see why not,” she said.
At the back of this photo is an impressive mihrab, or prayer niche, typically found at the back of a mosque (it's actually on the museum's eastern-facing wall, too). The door to the next room is meant to mirror the mihrab, and, we were told, the lighting fixtures are not authentic, but from Brooklyn.
If you were wondering, yes: the arches to the right of this picture are in fact Syrian.
This court features a bubbling fountain that would not have been uncommon in Middle Eastern homes for the period represented here.

You don’t need to be an expert in Islamic art to know that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new $50 million Islamic galleries are great. Really great! Terrifically impressive. They’re infused with little architectural flourishes that draw your attention to the best parts of the entire building — perhaps you’d never before considered how aggressively neoclassical the Greek and Roman galleries are. But aside from a few idiotic observations about the press preview on Monday, we don’t have much more to add beyond that. So take a look yourselves and feel your anticipation grow. The galleries open to the general public on Nov. 1.

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