Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Doha's Islamic Art Museum

There is a growing worldwide interest in Islamic art. Most museums in Western countries have special galleries on Islamic art, which are visited by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. In 2004 the world-renowned Louvre museum in Paris added a $60 million glass expansion to house its Islamic collection, which was earlier exhibited in underground corridors. Branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim are planned in Abu Dhabi.

The prices of Islamic art objects in London’s famous auction houses such as Christie’s and Sothbey’s have skyrocketed in recent years, thanks to growing international demand by museums and private art collectors. Famous jewels, manuscripts, ceramics and glassware from the medieval Islamic world are fetching 10 times their estimated worth. The royal al-Thani family of Qatar has been in the forefront of purchases of Islamic art objects around the world in the past few years. The royal collection of Islamic art has been brought together in a new museum which opened in Doha in November 2008. The Museum of Islamic Art, established by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hammad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has 800 rare specimens of Islamic art collected from around the world.

The inaugural festivities began with spectacular fireworks display on November 22, attended by luminaries from the art world from around the globe. The architecture of the museum has been designed by the 91-year old renowned architect and designer, I. M. Pei, who designed the famous glass pyramid at the Louvre. He spent months traveling across the Middle East, visiting the region’s architectural monuments and drawing inspiration for the museum project. The design of the museum, including its environs, reflects the distinctive features and ethos of Islamic architecture. The chief curator of the museum, Oliver Watson, is British, as are many of the staff. The museum’s collection includes manuscripts, textiles, ceramics, glassware, metal ware and other art objects assembled by the royal family over the past 20 years. The art objects in the collection originate from diverse regions of the world, including Spain, Central Asia, Iran, India and Turkey. The galleries are spread over an area of 41,000 square feet and are organized around a towering atrium capped by a dome.

It is hoped that the new museum will soon emerge as a leading centre of research and publication relating to Islamic art.

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