Arts / Museums


Pulling Back the Curtain on the Islamic World

BY Catherine D. Anspon // 02.03.15
Framed Islamic
Persian 18th-century artist Muhammad Baqir painted this image of “A Dancing Girl,” purchased by Franci Neely and Sabiha and Omar Rehmatulla for the MFAH.

Fresh from Friday night’s Arts of the Islamic Gala — which brought guests in from New York, London and Kuwait, joined by well-connected Houston notables — the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has added five more finds to its permanent collection of art from the Islamic lands. Our fave among the quintet, all funded by gala patrons: a mid-17th-century gold bottle ornamented with diamonds, rubies and emeralds that once held kohl eye makeup, a treasure with drama out of keeping with its diminutive size, and an 18th-century Persian painting of a lavishly costumed dancing girl by the artist Muhammad Baqir.

And so it goes with a department begun a mere seven years ago, but one that is rapidly adding rare and exceptional acquisitions, making it the envy of many other institutions, noted new hire Dr. Aimée Froom, curator of Islamic Art. (Froom arrived last fall via Paris, where she was an independent scholar to such venerable institutions as the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, and the British Museum, London.)

In keeping with the biennial gala, the MFAH rolled out a big reveal of two reinstalled galleries, as well as a curated selection of more than 250 masterworks from one of the world’s most astounding holdings of privately owned Islamic art, the fabled al-Sabah Collection from Kuwait — comprised of more than 30,000 objects, spanning the 7th through the 19th centuries, reaching geographically from Spain to China and created in media from glass and brass to ceramics, carpets, jewelry, illuminated texts, armor and architectural fragments. Both reimagined galleries and the al-Sabah Collection highlights remain on view at the museum long-term. (The al-Sabah Collection is on view through next January, part of an ongoing series of loans fostered by director Gary Tinterow‘s friendship from his Met days with Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah and Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah; Sheikha al-Sabah was in attendance at the gala).

With the diversity of Houston and the need for arts to bridge the Islamic world with the West, the exhibitions’ timing is prescient. Revel in these treasures, sensitively displayed in intimate settings, which foster contemplation and discovery, and are effective ambassadors for the mystery, beauty and light of Islam.

Home, chic home.

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