Wednesday 26 September 2012


A viewer examines a ceramic panel.
PARIS – The Louvre Museum has opened a dazzling new Islamic art section that has been drawing crowds in Paris this week.

The project, which cost nearly 100 million euros and took 11 years to complete, includes priceless artifacts from the 7th to the 19th century. It takes museum-goers on a chronological journey through Islamic art at a time of increased religious tension in the world.

“It’s a very rich collection,” said art historian Agnieszka Kluczewska Wojcik, who viewed the exhibits after the public opening on Sept. 22.

The museum poster
“The museum has done a good job of bringing things together and giving good explanations,” she told SWAN. “There seems to be a kind of competition on now with different museums showcasing Islamic art, and this opening comes at an interesting time with everything that's happening at the moment.”

(The launch was partly overshadowed by media focus on several mocking cartoons published in a French satirical magazine, which added to the furore surrounding an anti-Islam film.)

Wojcik said that the Louvre’s new department could be compared with the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Islamic art collection in London, which comprises more than 19,000 objects from the Middle East and North Africa.

Some of the ceramic items on display.
At the Louvre, the 18,000 or so artifacts represent regions ranging from Spain to India, with some of the most stunning pieces dating from the former Islamic civilization in southern Europe. Iran and Turkey also account for many of the impressive pottery objects on show.

The Louvre’s executive director, Henri Loyrette, said the new wing is a "dream come true" for the museum, which has one of the “most beautiful collections of Islamic art”. He said that creating the new space and integrating the previously scattered collection was an “architectural and cultural challenge”. The Louvre met the challenge by converting one of its courtyards into the Islamic art department.

Architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti designed a gauzy, undulating glass-and-metal roof that somehow evokes the feeling of being in a vast tent in the desert or being sheltered by a huge veil. This roof covers the upper, ground-floor level of the space, while the subterranean level is more in line with a conventional museum. Here, carpets, ceramic objects, ornately carved doors and other exhibits are displayed in spacious halls.

Carpets from Islamic countries form part of the collection.
The curators hope that the new wing will promote dialogue and also shine a light on little known aspects of Islamic art. For the next ten months, they have scheduled a series of debates and cultural events around the collection.

Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk and Lebanese artist Walid Raad are some of the featured speakers who will “illustrate Islam’s diversity”, according to the Louvre. - A.M.