Art of the Islamic Worlds Initiative at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Marks 10th Anniversary

A decade of exhibitions, scholarly research, and international collaboration has brought over 1,000 years of artistic achievements from historic Islamic lands to U.S. audiences

Houston—July 25, 2017—The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has designated 2017–18 for commemorative exhibitions and events to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative. Since the program’s founding in 2007, a decade of exhibitions, acquisitions, scholarly research, and international collaboration has brought the achievements of Islamic artistic traditions to U.S. audiences. Over 300 works spanning 1,300 years and the breadth of Islamic territories—from present-day India, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran to Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Spain—are now on continuous view, making the MFAH among the largest displays of art from the Islamic worlds in the United States.

“Ten years ago, this Museum made a commitment to assure that the art and culture of historic Islamic lands would have a permanent place among collections that span 5,000 years of human creativity,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “Since then, through the generous support of patrons here in Houston and abroad, and through vibrant relationships with colleagues, collectors, and institutions throughout the Muslim world, hundreds of thousands of visitors have been able to experience these rich artistic traditions, which are among the world’s most enduring.”

Aimée Froom, curator of the Art of the Islamic Worlds since 2014, commented, “Since establishing this department in 2007, the Museum has developed a focused collection with an emphasis on quality and rarity. Each year, we have brought to Houston collaborations, exhibitions, and programs illuminating key themes of Islamic art—whether the written word, gift-giving, or mystical traditions. The anniversary year will commemorate the collaborative spirit that has characterized the Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative, and draws from the dynamic, diverse communities of Houston, as well as the participation of international collectors and scholars.”

Overview: Art of the Islamic Worlds at the MFAH
In November 2007, under then-director Peter C. Marzio, the MFAH launched an initiative to research, collect, and present the art of Islamic lands, from antiquity to the present. At the time, the collection numbered 72 objects. Most had entered the collection in the 1930s as gifts from Miss Annette Finnigan, a Houstonian and philanthropist whose experience as a student at Wellesley College in the 1890s stirred her future activism in the city for women’s suffrage and public education. Milestones achieved since the inception of the Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative have included:

  • The founding of a permanent curatorial department for the Art of the Islamic Worlds and its supporting patron group, whose members are drawn from the diverse philanthropic communities of Houston.
  • More than $8 million raised in support; 64 objects and over 275 scholarly volumes acquired; nine exhibitions presented; five books and catalogues published; and more than 68 lectures and related programs held.
  • A historic agreement in 2012 between MFAH director Gary Tinterow and Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, co-owners of The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, providing for long-term loan of over 240 objects from one of the largest and most important collections of Islamic art in the world.
  • The presentation of two exhibitions of masterworks from The al-Sabah collection, from manuscripts, jewelry, metalwork, and ceramics to carpets, architectural fragments, and scientific instruments (2013 and 2015).
  • The opening, in 2015, of two new galleries designated for the permanent collection, under the direction of Art of the Islamic Worlds curator Aimée Froom. Ongoing presentations feature objects gifted by and on loan from collectors and patrons from around the world.

10th Anniversary Program: Exhibitions and Events
Details of the anniversary program to celebrate one decade of the Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative will be announced later this year. Plans currently under way include a slate of exhibitions, performances, gallery talks, lectures, and other public presentations.

About the MFAH
Established in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States, with an encyclopedic collection of more than 65,000 works dating from antiquity to the present. The main campus comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo and opened in 2000; the Caroline Wiess Law Building, originally designed by William Ward Watkin, with extensions by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed in 1958 and 1974; and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi and opened in 1986. Additional spaces include a repertory cinema, two libraries, public archives, and facilities for conservation and storage. Nearby, two house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi—present American and European decorative arts. The MFAH is also home to the Glassell School of Art and its acclaimed Core Residency Program and Junior and Studio Schools; and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art.

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