Brooklyn Museum completes decade-long renovation of Asian and Islamic art galleries

The Brooklyn Museum has unveiled the final phase of a transformative renovation of its Asian and Islamic art galleries, a roughly $9 million project carried out over the past decade to improve the previously antiquated space, which was last renovated in the late 1970s.

The 20,000 square foot galleries display nearly 700 objects, most of which have received some level of preservation, from the museum’s extensive collection of 17,000 pieces of Asian and Islamic artworks, including contemporary and several artifacts coming out of storage for the first time. .

The renovation, which was overseen by New York-based firm Ennead Architects, involved upgrading the lighting and air conditioning systems (which were previously managed by large oscillating fans) and a redesign of the display and collection labeling that aims to better engage modern audiences.

Installation view, Arts of Japan, Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Danny Perez.

“Much of the collection was amassed in the middle of the 20th century, when some stories were considered more important than others, according to the priorities and values ​​of the time,” says Joan Cummins, curator of Asian arts at the museum. The arts journal. “This project was an opportunity to bring presentation into the 21st century, both in terms of physical space and through the stories we tell.”

She adds: “When museums build permanent galleries, it’s about showing the best of the collection, which sometimes includes original objects that don’t necessarily help you tell a mainstream story about the passage of time, but are often gorgeous pieces that you want people to see. see. The resettlement reflects this back and forth between wanting to make certain points and showing off our treasures.

Installation view, Arts of the Islamic World, Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Danny Perez.

South Asian Arts and Islamic World Arts are the latest galleries to be completed in the renovation. The Islamic galleries include secular and non-secular sections of objects and artworks, including installations that aim to provide a “real-life scenario that reflects the culture, not just the religion, of Islam “, explains Aysin Yoltar, curator of Islamic art. . For example, there is a prayer rug surrounded by mosque furniture, as well as stylized ceramics which are exhibited in their “original context”, as containers for food.

Cummins adds that one of the main strengths of the upgraded galleries is the comprehensive yet concise labeling.

“We’ve found that a lot of our visitors don’t slavishly read labels and that’s fine because frankly, we’d rather they look at the art,” she says. “Although we have more labels now than before, the previous galleries fell short because they didn’t explain much.”

The Arts of South Asia galleries, for example, contain several items that “wouldn’t have meant much to you before, unless you were already familiar with Hindu mythology,” Cummins says. “There is more verbiage, but if visitors have a question, they can hopefully get an answer.”

The project was funded by several grants from the City of New York and the Mellon Foundation, as well as other public and private donors. The Arts of Korea gallery was the first gallery to reopen in 2017, followed by the Arts of China and Arts of Japan galleries in 2019, the Arts of Southeast Asia gallery in 2021, and the Arts of Buddhism and Arts of the Himalayas earlier. this year.

Mildred D. Field