BOSTON COLLEGE McMULLEN MUSEUM OF ART PRESENTS LANDMARK EXHIBITION
OF PREMIER ISLAMIC WORKS, MOST IN FIRST UNITED STATES DISPLAY:
Cosmophilia: Islamic Art from the David Collection, Copenhagen
September 1-December 31, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL, MA (9-06) – The McMullen Museum of Art
at Boston College will present Cosmophilia: Islamic Art from the
David Collection, Copenhagen. The exhibition—on view from
September 1 through December 31, 2006—comprises over 100
of the finest examples of Islamic art, most of which have never
before been displayed in the United States.
Cosmophilia (literally "love of ornament") will explore, for the
first time, the roles that decoration plays in the visual arts of Islam. The
lavish use of ornament is one of the most characteristic—and attractive—features
of Islamic art, and one that never has been given its due in a major exhibition,
according to the organizers. In addition, they describe the exhibition as the
first "user-friendly" and accessible presentation of Islamic art,
because it is organized visually by theme as opposed to chronologically or historically.
The exhibition is curated by Boston College Professors Sheila
Blair and Jonathan Bloom, two of the world’s leading historians
of Islamic art, who are married and jointly hold the Norma Jean
Calderwood University Chair in Islamic and Asian Art at Boston
College. The works on display—drawn from the David Collection,
one of the foremost repositories of the arts of the Islamic world—range
in media from jewelry to carpets, in date from the 7th to the
19th century and in geographic origin from Western Europe to East
Asia. The exhibition will include both secular and religious art.
"The McMullen Museum is honored to have Boston College’s Calderwood
University Professors Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, two of the world’s
scholars of Islamic art, organize a groundbreaking exhibition from one of world’s
finest, albeit lesser known, collections of Islamic art. We are pleased and proud
this exhibition to our former colleague and friend Norma Jean Calderwood, who
introduced the study of Islamic art to the Boston College curriculum and to the
memory of her husband Stanford Calderwood," said McMullen Museum
Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.
"It is the first time ever that so many works of Islamic art have left
the David Collection to be shown abroad. And since scholarship within this field
is manifesting itself stronger in the US than anywhere else for the time being,
I am especially pleased that this elegant, enlightening and well-documented exhibition
takes place there," said Kjeld von Folsach, Director of the David Collection.
[MEDIA NOTE: Images available upon request from the Museum: call Naomi Blumberg
at (617) 552-4676.]
Blair and Bloom had unprecedented access— because the
David Collection will be closed for renovation in 2006-07—to
select for display 123 of the finest pieces in the collection,
which comprises some 2,500 works of art. "Islamic art,"
they note, "a term coined by 18th-century Orientalists, refers
not only to the arts made for the faith of Islam, but also to
all arts created in lands where Islam was the principal religion."
"These magnificent objects testify to the long and vibrant cultures and rich intellectual
traditions of the Islamic lands," Bloom says. "This exhibition will
introduce Americans to the extraordinary visual virtuosity of one of the world’s
great artistic traditions, with which they are largely unfamiliar."
The exhibition provides a rare opportunity for the US audience to view these
works, which represent the broadest range in medium, technique, place of origin
and date. There have been few comprehensive exhibitions of Islamic art—notably,
one in Munich in 1910, and one in London in 1976. And, most temporary exhibitions
of Islamic art have focused on particular media, countries, dynasties, rulers
or even single works of art.
Cosmophilia’s goal—taken from the idea proposed in the preface to
the London exhibition catalogue—is "to trace the key themes present
in Islamic art, separately or together" and to show how they were developed
differently at different times and place. Blair and Bloom note that, for most
Westerners, exuberant ornament and a love of pattern distinguish the arts of
the Islamic lands from the world’s other great artistic traditions.
Public Opening Celebration: On Tuesday, September 12, an opening celebration—which
is open to the public, free of charge—will be held at the Museum from 7-9
p.m. It will include exhibition viewing and a dessert reception. [NOTE: To arrange
attendance, call 617-552-8587 or email email@example.com]. The public event will
be preceded, on September 8, by a black-tie celebration for invited guests.
The exhibition is organized visually by theme in five sections—figures,
writing, geometry, vegetation-arabesque and hybrids—which unite the visual
arts of the Islamic lands, and reveal how artisans explored major types of decorations.
Figures explores representations of people and animals, both real and imaginary,
which form a major theme of the secular—but not the religious—arts
of the Islamic lands. It will present some of the world’s finest Persian
book paintings from a 16th-century manuscript of the Shahnama, or Book of Kings,
as well as life-size weavings decorated with courtly figures and tiny metalwares
inlaid with silver and gold.
Writing shows viewers how the word—especially the Koran—is the primary
theme of Islamic religious art, but the love of writing spilled over into all
the arts. Viewers can examine varieties of beautiful writing on objects ranging
from sumptuous manuscripts of the Koran to inscribed textiles and ceramics.
Geometry reveals how artists in the Islamic lands greatly expanded the designs
found in pre-Islamic times into complex geometric patterns applied to the works
of art ranging from superb inlaid wooden doors to patchwork tablecloths.
Vegetation/Arabesque reveals how artists transformed the rich traditions of decoration
with plants, flowers and leaves inherited from the Sassanian and late-Antique
worlds into major motifs of decoration. This section explains the development
of the arabesque, the quintessential ornament in Islamic art, where plants grow
according to the laws of geometry rather than nature.
Hybrids presents some or all of these themes present on a single work of art.
The exhibition also will examine the unifying principles that characterize Islamic
arts: color, repetition, symmetry, direction, juxtaposition, layering, framing,
transferability, abstraction and ambiguity. Exhibition wall texts, labels and
an audio tour will explain to visitors how artisans in the Islamic lands embraced
decoration, embellishing everything from tablewares to tapestries with various
exuberant motifs. [NOTE: Full exhibition description at www.bc.edu/artmuseum]
After it leaves the McMullen Museum, the exhibition will travel to the University
of Chicago’s Smart Museum, where it will be on display from February to
Blair and Bloom are the principal authors of the accompanying illustrated catalogue.
Like the exhibition, the 300-page catalogue—including essays on ornament,
individual entries, and color reproductions of all 123 objects—is intended
to be a major scholarly contribution. It will include an essay on the David Collection
by its Director, Kjeld von Folsach, as well as related essays on ornament by
Netzer, a noted medievalist; and Associate Professor Claude Cernuschi, a Boston
College expert on modern art. [For more details, see www.bc.edu/artmuseum]
Accompanying Educational Programs Educational programs will allow the exhibition
to play a special role in current discussions about art, religion and political
culture in the Islamic lands.
Public events—including a lecture and film series—will be offered
(see below). Blair and Bloom will also offer teacher-training sessions to enable
teachers to incorporate an Islamic studies component into their curricula and
tour the exhibition with their classes. Museum docents will offer weekly tours
and group tours on request (see page 5). An audio tour, written and narrated
by Blair and Bloom, will be available free of charge on iPods and on the Museum
In addition, the McMullen Museum and the Ilex Foundation will host a viewing
and reception in conjunction with the 40th meeting of the Middle East Studies
Association of America (MESA), which will be held in Boston in November 2006.
Blair and Bloom are program chairs for the entire meeting, which focuses on the
theme of cultural expression and will bring several thousand scholars of Islamic
studies to the exhibition.
Public Opening Celebration
Tuesday, September 12, 7 – 9 p.m. Dessert reception and exhibition viewing.
Thursday, September 14, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 101 “‘God
is Beautiful, and He Loves Beauty’: Remembrance and Repetition in Islamic
By James Morris, Professor of Theology, Boston College
Thursday, September 28, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 101 “
Collecting and Exhibiting the Middle East in a Post-9/11 World." By
Linda Komaroff, Curator of Islamic Art and Department Head, Ancient and Islamic
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Tuesday, October 17, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 101 "
Heroes and Saints in Islamic Art and Literature." By John Renard,
Professor of Theology, St. Louis University
Thursday, November 2, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall
Adolf Loos, Alois Riegl, and the Debate on Ornament in Fin-de-Siècle
Claude Cernuschi, Associate Professor of Fine Arts, Boston College
Thursday, November 16 , 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 101"
Islamic Architecture: The Triumph of Color." By Bernard O’Kane,
Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture, American University in Cairo
Thursday, September 21, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 026 The Color of Paradise (1999),
directed by Majid Majidi
Thursday, October 5, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 026 Paradise Now (2005), directed
by Hany Abu-Assad
Thursday, October 19, 7 p.m., Devlin Hall room 026 Journey to the Sun (1999),
directed by Yesim Ustaoglu
For accompanying programs on Jews in the Islamic World, visit BC’s Jewish
Studies Program web site at: www.bc.edu/schools/cas/jewish. For more information
on public programs, or directions to the BC campus, call 617-552-8100 or visit
The David Collection
The David Collection, established in 1945 by Christian Ludvig David (1878-1960),
is a non-profit museum (open to the public) housed in David’s former residence
on Kronprinsessegade, facing the Royal Gardens in Copenhagen. Since 1962 its
directors have actively been purchasing Islamic art, and it now houses one of
the finest collections of Islamic art in the world, produced in a wide variety
of media across the vast region from northwest Africa and Spain to India. But
because it is located outside a major artistic center, the David Collection remains
Most of the 123 objects in Cosmophilia have never been displayed in America.
It is anti-cipated that an audience of some 25,000 will view Cosmophilia at the
McMullen Museum of Art.
"We hope that visitors of all ages and backgrounds will leave Cosmophilia encouraged
to explore the Islamic contribution to American culture and to recognize and
appreciate the Islamic decorative elements that surround them in mainstream American
architecture and design," Netzer said.
McMullen Museum of Art The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary
exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship
of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of
New England as well as the national and the international community. The Museum
displays its notable permanent collection and mounts exhibitions of international
scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In
keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s
exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs.
The 10th anniversary of the formal reopening of the Museum was marked in 2003-04.
The Charles S. and Isabella V. McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 in honor
of the late parents of the late Boston College benefactor, trustee and art collector
John J. McMullen.
McMullen Museum Hours and Tours Admission to the McMullen Museum is free; it
is handicapped accessible and open to the public. The Museum is located in Devlin
Hall on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, at 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours are:
Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5
p.m. Closed on the following dates: September 4, October 9, November 23-24, December
24-26. No parking on the following Saturdays: September 9, 16, and 30; October
28; November 11 and 18.
Exhibition tours will be given every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Free group tours arranged
upon request; call (617) 552-8587. For directions, parking and program information,
visit www.bc.edu/artmuseum or call (617) 552-8100.
According to the American Association of Museums (www.aam-us.org), 2006 marks
its 100th anniversary and has been designated the Year of the Museum.
Cosmophilia Dedication and Sponsorship
This exhibition is dedicated to Norma Jean and the late Stanford Calderwood,
who fostered the study of Islamic art at Boston College. It was organized by
the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College in collaboration with the David
Collection, Copenhagen. Major support has been provided by the Calderwood Charitable
Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Patrons of the McMullen
Museum. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council
Arts and the Humanities. In 2000, the endowed chair in Islamic and Asian art
at Boston College—jointly
held by distinguished art scholars Blair and Bloom—was created through
a gift from the late Stanford Calderwood in honor of his wife, Norma Jean, a
part-time lecturer in the BC Fine Arts Department from 1983 until her retirement