Louvre opens long-awaited Islamic Wing

News Agencies – September 20, 2012

 

France’s Louvre Museum is unveiling a new wing devoted to Islamic art, with the long-gestating project debuting during a period of increased tension with the Muslim community over a French publication’s caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Louvre’s new addition, which cost nearly 100 million euros (about $127 million Cdn) is its biggest project since the famed Parisian art museum unveiled its I.M. Pei-designed, now-iconic glass pyramid in 1988. The dragonfly-shaped new galleries will showcase a rotating display of artifacts from the Louvre’s collection of Islamic art, which includes pieces dating from as far back as the 7th century.

The museum first opened its Islamic art department in 2003, during the tenure of former French president Jacques Chirac, who urged a “dialogue of cultures” to break down walls between religions. France is home to more than four million Muslims, western Europe’s largest Muslim population.

However, an expansion was necessary because the Louvre did not have enough space to display what has grown to become a vast collection of Islamic art, including treasures donated by King Mohammed VI of Morocco and the foundation of Saudi Prince Waleed Bin Talal.

 

At the Met, a New Vision for Islam in Hostile Times: A Cosmopolitan Trove of Exotic Beauty

Over the past decade, many Americans have based their thoughts and feelings about Islam in large part on a single place: the blasted patch of ground where the World Trade Center once stood. But a rival space has slowly and silently taken shape over those same years, about six miles to the north. It is a vast, palacelike suite of rooms on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where some of the world’s most precious Islamic artifacts sit sequestered behind locked doors.

When the Met’s Islamic galleries first opened in 1975, they were presented as a cultural monolith, where nations and cultures were subsumed under one broad banner, as if Islam were another planet. Haidar and her colleagues have tried to emphasize the diversity of Islamic cultures across time and space. One result of that altered emphasis was the gallery’s new name. The “Islamic Wing” is gone, replaced by the “Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia.” It is a mouthful, but it makes a point.