New galleries for Islamic Art at MFAH slated to open in 2023

Dish. Iran, second half of the 15th century. Stonepaste; painted in blue under transparent glaze / The Hossein Afshar Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has announced plans to open new, expanded galleries for Art of the Islamic Worlds in early 2023 – a culmination of a 15-year initiative at the museum to research, collect, and present Islamic art.

The $3.5 million project will create a nearly 6,000-square-foot space in the museum’s Caroline Wiess Law Building, reconfigured from existing space that has housed the museum’s library.

The overall budget “encompasses moving the library out of the current space and into a new space, and outfitting it for that new location, plus, renovating and installing the galleries’ newly occupied space,” said the MFAH in an email to Houston Arts Journal.

The end result will more than double the size of the museum’s current gallery for Islamic art, which will remain in place near the new galleries.

Qur’an Manuscript in Maghribi Script. Morocco, end of Rabi’ al-Awwal, AH 718 / 1318 CE. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on parchment / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Museum purchase funded by the Honorable and Mrs. Hushang Ansary, the Brown Foundation Accessions Endowment Fund, and the Alice Pratt Brown Museum Fund

The new galleries will display hundreds of additional works, including paintings, manuscripts, ceramics, carpets, and metalwork spanning more than 1,000 years. It aims to reflect the breadth of historic Islamic lands: present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, and Morocco.

The MFAH says it also plans to build an outdoor space with an adjoining garden and fountain.

“We are proud to be one of the largest permanent displays in the United States for art of the Islamic worlds,” said Aimée Froom, MFAH’s curator of Art of the Islamic Worlds, in a press release.

“The galleries are as diverse as Houston itself, and our goal is to continue to expand our presentation of the rich multiplicity of cultures and traditions as reflected in the extraordinary art from Islamic lands,” said Froom.

The MFAH founded its curatorial department for Islamic art in 2007 with a collection of 72 objects. Since then, the collection has expanded to 168 objects, which the museum says has been developed with an “emphasis on quality and rarity” and “acquired primarily with funds raised with support from the Friends of the Art of the Islamic Worlds patron group, and with gifts.”

Ewer. Iran, AH 1016 / 1607-1608 CE. Brass; cast, engraved, and inlaid with black compound / The Hossein Afshar Collection at the Museum of Fine
Arts, Houston

The museum’s permanent collection is supplemented by two significant private collections on extended loan: The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, which has shared with the MFAH nearly 300 pieces from its collection numbering in the tens of thousands, including manuscripts, jewelry, metalwork, ceramics, carpets, architectural fragments, and scientific instruments; and more than 1,000 pieces of Persian art from The Hossein Afshar Collection.

“These new and expanded permanent galleries devoted to Art of the Islamic Worlds are made possible by a new partnership with Hossein Afshar, creator of perhaps the most extensive collection of Iranian art in private hands,” said Gary Tinterow, MFAH’s Director, in a statement.

“We are immensely grateful to Mr. Afshar, who has endowed a gallery for the Arts of Iran and placed his collection on long-term loan in Houston so that we may enhance our effort to reflect the city whose many communities we serve,” Tinterow said.

When the new galleries open in 2023, the MFAH is also scheduled to host the international biennial symposium, “Historians of Islamic Art and Architecture,” March 2-4, 2023, led by curator Aimée Froom and Farshid Emami, Assistant Professor of Art History at Rice University.

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