Reinstalling the Arts of the Islamic World

For those of you who have been missing the arts of the Islamic world (or wondering what it is you’ve been missing), we are almost finished with our reinstallation of the past several weeks. The galleries had been a sandy beige for some 2-3 decades, so the new dark color will probably be the first thing you notice on your next visit. When I came to the Museum in early 2007, I knew that it would be a few years before we would be making any big structural changes to the second floor, where the Islamic galleries are located. But I really wanted to do something in the meantime to bring some attention to the arts of the Islamic world, which are a constant reminder of the positive and beautiful aspects of Islamic culture. I wanted the objects to “pop out,” for the focus to be on the art rather than the space in which the art is exhibited. I thought a dark, grayish or charcoal blue would be a nice change of scenery and a great backdrop for the objects of various media in rich cobalt blues, turquoises, deep reds, and purples found in the arts of a territory spanning from Spain to China and Southeast Asia, and even the contemporary diaspora. Golds and silvers also look great against this blue, whether on metalwork or paper; luster ceramics now feel like they sparkle!

To give the designer, Lance Singletary, a sense of what I imagined, I picked up a couple of paint swatches from the hardware store and he took it from there. I can’t stress enough how important these conversations with the designer are, because if Lance didn’t “get” what kind of vision I had for the space, it would have ended up looking a lot different than what you’re about to see in this video. He will explain how he came up with the subtle details that make for an extraordinary change on a relatively modest budget. It’s been an intense project that came together in an incredibly short period of time, thanks to the help of a whole team of people— curatorial staff, conservators, editors, designers, painters, electricians, art handlers, maintenance staff, technology staff, the security staff who kept an eye on me on many a late night at the museum, and more (I really hope I haven’t overlooked anyone here!). Ultimately, though, you will have to come see for yourself when the galleries open to the public on June 5, 2009—in the meantime, check out this “behind-the-scenes” video of some of the reinstallation: