Beyond the Blare of the News


  There are small minds everywhere, but fortunately there are about big ones too.  Above you see the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.  It was designed by IM Pei who went to very great effort – wide peregrination and deep cultural immersion – to find the heart of Islamic architecture.  “Might it not lie in the desert, severe and simple in its design, where sunlight brings form to life?”*

  Most collections of Islamic art are in the west, minded by non Muslims.  The original vision of The Emir and his wife Sheikha Moza was not only to emplace fine objects in the region of their origin, but also to provide a center of culture and education.  “Here is a museum in the Muslim world capable of bridging the gap between tradition and modernity” said the original curator Sabiha Al-Khemir.

  As you may know, pictorial representation contravenes a precept of Islam.  There is thus no tradition of landscape or portraiture.  Think then about how it must currently be for visitors to that museum to look upon the likes of Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer for the first time in an exhibition of the Dutch golden age.

  For an article in the May 2011 Art Newspaper editor Anna Somers Cocks toured the show with a young volunteer.  The responses of the latter to Ms Cocks’ “just tell me what you see” were fresh and felt and fascinating.  About Church Interior by Emanuel de Witte (below) she said:

  “I like this very much; if you stand back you feel like you can go inside it.  I like that he drew if very well; you can see the small things like the details of the column.  They told me that they put dead people under the floor and I said how can you prey with dead people beneath you? I am told that when a woman got married the only thing she could do for fun was to go to church.”

  Above you see Jan Steen’s The Very Merry Family: “Because everybody is happy about something, everyone is doing a different thing, but because they are ignoring each other, the small child is on its own, drinking.  So this is a troubled family and very dirty and things are falling down.”

  She liked Rembrandt’s Self Portrait: “I love this person because he has been painting himself since he was young.  Maybe this is his last portrait.  I have heard that he painted himself all through his life, how his face, how his body changed.  It’s a very nice idea.  You can feel he is very old, even from how he is drowning his hair.  He does not put in many details so that you can focus on the face”.

  Hmm.  There is so much behind and beyond the blare of the 24/7 news cycle…

*I.M. Pei Complete Works by Jodido and Strong, Rizzoli, 2008

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