Seeing the Light in Dallas

Need another reason to go to Dallas, besides the Texas barbeque and jalapeño cornbread?  The exhibition Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World is on view at the Dallas Museum of Art after its debut at the Focus-Abengoa Foundation in Seville, Spain.

As Shangri La’s Collections Manager, I recently couriered three objects to Dallas for inclusion in the exhibition, which opened on March 30 and runs through June 29. “Nur” is the Arabic word for light, and the exhibition, which explores its multiple meanings, is organized into two major sections: one focusing on artistic techniques that enhance the effect of light, and the second focusing on scientific fields related to light or enlightenment. In addition to manuscripts, ceramics, and inlaid metalwork, among other objects, there are scientific instruments, including sundials, astrolabes, and anatomical instruments, which clearly illustrate the Islamic world’s hand in the European Renaissance.

Spanning more than ten centuries, the exhibition features 150 rarely seen objects from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. DDFIA’s loan consists of the following trio:

Incense Burner
Incense Burner
Northern India, probably late nineteenth century
Jade; gold, silver, gemstones
Overall: 4 x 4 9/16 in. (10.2 x 11.5cm), 41.15a-c
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2010.)

 

Torchstand
Torchstand
Iran, Safavid, sixteenth or seventeenth century, no later than 1656
Copper alloy; cast, engraved, inlaid with black composition, traces of gilding
Overall: 17 1/2 x 8 3/4 in. (44.5 x 22.2cm), 54.112
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2005.)

 

 

Turban Ornament in the Form of a Bird
Turban Ornament in the Form of a Bird
India (Jaipur), 19th century
Enameled gold, gemstones
Overall: 4 1/2 x 3 x 1 1/2 in. (11.4 x 7.6 x 3.8cm), 44.43a-b
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2007.)

As for that jet set crowd of couriers, there’s an endearing parental air that each courier inevitably conveys toward the artwork they’ve been entrusted to safely deliver.  At international exhibitions such as this, couriers with varying degrees of jet lag hover, inspect, and in spare moments, coo over each other’s objects, which helps soothe the jangled nerves of a long journey and the unspoken hope that the next crate opened will be in as good shape as the last.

On the day of Shangri La’s object installation, I was delighted to meet two couriers from the Furusuyya Foundation in Liechtenstein delivering a veritable trove of goodies and a courier from Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain whose darling lustreware candlestick in the form of a horse and rider stole a few hearts.

Candleholder
Candleholder
Manises (Valencia, Spain), 1651-1725
Tin-glazed earthenware, molded, luster-painted
25.2 x. 23.5 x 12 cm
Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid
[CE19289]
Lending museum objects is kind of like arranging a playdate for your objects. It’s exciting to get to see familiar objects in a new context and strangely gratifying to see them displayed alongside works of art from other institutions—like watching your kids having fun at the playground or pups romping at a dog park, but, more formal (everyone’s wearing gloves after all), no sudden moves, and a lot less mud.

The days leading up to an exhibition opening are periods of intense activity. They are the culmination of months and even years of planning. Gallery spaces are cluttered with people, pneumatic lifts, crates, supply carts, ladders and display cases in transit.  Registrars, in this case, DMA’s Patty Tainter, Associate Registrar, Exhibitions,  orchestrated the arrival of the artworks, carefully staggering the dates of multiple couriers’ itineraries and lining up the staff needed to efficiently open crates, carry out condition reporting, and installation. Curators, in this case, Dr. Sabiha al Khemir, DMA’s senior advisor for Islamic art, have the final say on the object arrangement before the case can be sealed. With each crate being unpacked there’s a collective air of expectancy akin  to a gift being opened; the relief that another object made it safe and sound, palpable. The objects in their custom-carved tyvek and ethafoam cavities, rest contentedly, endearingly familiar and blasé like a chortling baby in a crib oblivious to the surrounding commotion of installation activities.

patty condition reporting

DMA’s Associate Registrar, Exhibitions, Patty Tainter conducts a condition report of an incoming loan

There were many cases yet to be filled with treasures on that day, with the opening day still being two weeks out, but among my favorites was this trio of beauties from the British Museum. It’s all about the display. The dramatic lightbox effect for this willowy group of rosewater sprinklers calls to mind a glamorous trio of 1960s  Motown girl group singers. Meet the Supremes!

Three Swan-necked Bottles
Three Swan-necked Bottles
Persia, 1779-1925, Qajar
Glass, dip-molded, blown
Green: H. (max.) 35 cm, Diam. (max.) 11 cm
Blue: H. (max.) 38.5 cm, Diam. (max.) 10.5 cm
White: H. (max.) 37.5 cm, Diam. (max.) 11 cm
The British Museum, London
[1877,0116.43, 1877,0116.44, 1895,0322.4]
Dallas Museum of Art is one to watch. It is soon to receive one of the world’s leading private collections of Islamic Art, the rarely exhibited Keir Collection, which will make DMA’s Islamic art holdings the third largest in North America (after the Met and Smithsonian’s Freer-Sackler Galleries). The Keir Collection is slated to arrive at DMA as a long-term loan beginning in May 2014. Go Dallas!

P.S. When you’re in Dallas, don’t forget to try a po boy. I hopped a free trolley ride across from the DMA to find mine. You’ll see the light at first bite.

po boys