Today Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
, and Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, director of the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI), Kuwait, and co-owner with Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah of The al-Sabah Collection, jointly announced the signing of an extraordinary agreement of cooperation between their two institutions. The privately held al-Sabah Collection, one of the greatest collections of Islamic art in the world, will place some 60 objects, ranging from carpets, ceilings and architectural fragments to exquisite ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, scientific instruments and manuscripts, on long-term loan in a dedicated gallery at the MFAH. The Museum will reciprocate with staff exchanges and training and, at a future date, exchange of works of art and exhibitions. The initial term of the renewable agreement is five years, and the first display is expected to be on view for at least one year, beginning January 26, 2013.
This display, which contains objects from the 8th to the 18th centuries, made in the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, will demonstrate the development of new aesthetics in Islamic visual culture, based on calligraphy, geometric ornamentation and the arabesque. The primacy of the written word, exemplified by early illuminated manuscripts of the Quran in Kufic script, will be seen in ceramics, stone capitals, textiles and inlaid metal work. Intricate geometric ornamentation decorates a 15th-century Spanish ceiling panel; a Mamluk rug made in Egypt; manuscripts and works on paper; and glass and metal vessels. Arabesque decoration, derived from scrolling vines and other vegetal motifs, will be seen on 17th-century Ottoman textiles, Iznik pottery and tiles from Persia and Central Asia. Finally, selections of Mughal paintings, illuminated manuscripts and ceramics made in north India and Iran in the 17th century, as well as examples of spectacular Mughal jewelry, will complete the display. The al-Sabah Collection is widely recognized as the greatest holding of Mughal jewelry in the world. The loans to Houston include an engraved emerald weighing more than 85 carats, a very important inscribed spinel (ruby), an emerald-anddiamond turban ornament, enamel vessels and jeweled jade court daggers. These jewels were previously seen in Houston in 2002 at the MFAH in the exhibition Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals (TOW), drawn exclusively from The al-Sabah Collection.
The agreement was negotiated by the two directors with the assistance of Mahrukh Tarapor, senior advisor for international initiatives for the MFAH. The initial selection of objects was proposed by Giovanni Curatola, professor at the University of Udine and a consultant for the DAI, who will assist the MFAH with the presentation in Houston. The Museum will honor Sheikha Hussah al-Sabah at its Arts of the Islamic World Gala on January 25, 2013.
I am thrilled that the legendary al-Sabah Collection has decided to place masterworks from these extraordinary holdings on display in Houston, said Tinterow. With one stroke, we will be able to show our public the glorious achievement of Islamic visual culture in a comprehensive display, perhaps the finest between the East and West coasts of the United States. Houston is home to a large and diverse Muslim community, and I am very happy that the art and culture of the Islamic world will now take its rightful place in the Museum.
In many ways, this new cooperation is a continuation of the relationships with a city that began decades ago, and with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston which began in 2002, noted Sheikha Hussah al-Sabah. It was a son of Houston, the Honorable George H.W. Bush, who spearheaded the UN coalition that liberated Kuwait from Iraq in 1991. It is the hospitality of Houston that encourages the Muslim community to be part of the city and share their culture, in part through this exhibition. And, of course, it was the exceptional experience we enjoyed while working with the museum on the Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals (TOW) exhibition that made the decision easy. Houston and Kuwait share much more than a common interest in oil production; there is also a common interest in learning from and about other cultures. We are proud that, together, the MFAH and the DAI will give all the people of Houston a new opportunity for sharing.