In its earliest decades, the Met's mission was centered on the idea that exposure to great works of art could elevate both the public's aesthetic sensibilities and what America, as an emerging manufacturing power, actually produced. I cannot help but think about this 140-year-old sentiment today as I watch fourteen Moroccan craftsmen in our galleries building a courtyard to accompany the magnificent works of art in our Islamic collection. What an extraordinary challenge to create something both historic and new, steeped in the traditions of the past, but crafted in fresh and modern circumstances: the gentle arabesque of hand-carving shown under LED lights.
These craftsmen—the upholders of rare artisanal methods that stretch back centuries—arrived at the Museum from Fez in December and began their monumental task. Their project was to create a medieval Islamic courtyard within the Met's new Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia, opening on November 1.
This video gives you a glimpse of their work's exquisite detail. It is mesmerizing to watch their delicate application of materials and behold the lyrical surfaces that emerge—and thrilling to have this living tradition represented in our galleries. But this is not just beautiful architecture; such courtyards were created for the exchange of ideas and remind us of the rich intellectual life of the Islamic world.
Our new galleries will highlight the greatest collection of Islamic art in the Western world. This outstanding collection has been off view for more than eight years as we re-thought and reconfigured the galleries to tell the story of these objects at a time when they have particular resonance. I look forward to sharing them with you and hope you enjoy this small preview of what is to come.
"History's Hands" (New York Times, March 17, 2011)