Middle Eastern art heads to West Coast

The Art Newspaper

March 2012

LOS ANGELES.  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is perhaps American’s most active museum when it comes to collecting contemporary art by Middle Eastern artists.

It has added more than 100 works to its collection over the past six years.  Last year patrons keen to help Lacma acquire more works formed the Art of the Middle East Contemporary, a collectors’ council.  The museum’s contemporary art collection from the region might be small compared with its 1,600-strong collection of historic Middle Eastern art, but it is growing fast.

The museum is currently acquiring work by emerging Turkish artist Günseli Kato and renowned Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi.  The collection now includes work by Iranian artists Samira Alikhanzadeh, Sadeh Tirafkan and Shadi Ghadirian; Libyan-born Ali Omar Ermes, and the Saudi Arabian artist Ahmed Mater’s Illumination (Ottoman Waqf) (above).  Michael Govan, the director of Lacma, and Linda Komaroff, who leads its department of art in the Middle East, are due to travel to the Gulf this month for Art Dubai and the opening in Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art of the Lacma-organised show, “Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts” (18 March until 2 June).  This is the first exhibition of Islamic art organised by an American museum to travel to the region.

Komaroff was the lead curator for “Gifts of the Sultan”.  She is also the driving force behind the strengthening of the museum’s collection of contemporary Middle Eastern art.  Komaroff says she was inspired by the British Museum’s exhibition of modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art, “Word into Art” (2006).

When she began collecting for Lacma, she admits that she has a fairly conservative approach.  “I thought more rigidly and chronologically before, [but] my ideas have changed and expanded.  Where I normally show traditional calligraphy, we have the video The Path by [the contemporary Saudi Arabian artist] Abdul Nasser Gharem.  A few years ago, I would never have imagined it in a section on Mamluk art.”  So, what does Komaroff have her eye on now? “I hope [US-based Iranian artist] Shirin Neshat will be the next big addition to our collection.”

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