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A Pope, a Fish, and a Puzzle

POSTED BY , ON September 15, 2010, 4 COMMENTS

If you come to the Art Institute to see Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century (closing October 3), it is worth making a quick stop next door in Gallery 267 to see Arthur Pope and a New Survey of Persian Art (closing September 26).  This exhibition highlights the museum’s collection of Persian art, which was developed under the guidance of Arthur Upham Pope, a dealer, scholar, collector, and curator of Persian art.

The quiet, dark-blue-walled gallery offers a contemplative atmosphere to view the small selection of works, which sample hundreds of years of Persian art history. Many of the works have an incredible degree of intricate detail, which immediately drew me in. I liked how the emphasis on detail and patterns is apparent throughout various media and dates represented in the exhibition, from a 15th century tile window grill, to an 18th century pair of engraved copper alloy hands, to a late 19th century textile hanging, and more.  My favorite piece was a 17th century architectural tile (pictured above), which looks to me like a maze or an electrical circuit.

A random stroll through the contemporary art galleries after viewing this exhibition reminded me of something Erin H. wrote about the value of an encyclopedic art museum like the Art Institute.   I was struck by how one of Julia Fish’s paintings of a tile floor (previously blogged by Jenny G.) would not have seemed out of place in the exhibition of Persian art.  Although the artistic purpose was likely very different, just compare Fish’s painting, below, to the Persian tile above.  How many climate-controlled places can you stumble around and find such interesting connections from works of art separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles?

BONUS PUZZLE (because I can’t resist): How many artworks can you find in the galleries of Contemporary Art after 1960 (Modern Wing second floor) depicting the Art Institute of Chicago?  On my way through the galleries to re-find the Julia Fish painting shown above, I saw three.  Can you find them?

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4 Responses to “A Pope, a Fish, and a Puzzle”

  1. Diane says:

    The Art of Islamic Tile is also an excellent resource for learning more about the influences of these Persian designs. Yes, it would be good to get a closer look at the fish paintings.

  2. Chris Miller says:

    It’s good that the A.I.C. has got some Persian art, but unfortunately, as this exhibit suggests, we haven’t got very much: no carpets, no miniatures, and far less ceramics than the Plotnik collection that came to Chicago in 2007. Which is something of a puzzle, since, as this exhibit reminds us, Arthur Upham Pope served as the museum’s “Advisory Curator of Muhammadan Art” for about ten years, back when, according to him, dealers gave him first crack at 80% of historical Iranian pieces put onto the world market. The most fascinating part of this tiny exhibit would have to be the case that displays a 10th C. bowl right next to the illustration and text that Pope published in his 2700 page “Survey of Persian Art” from 1930. But it’s also interesting how the curator included several pieces from the more recent Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925) which Pope would have likely rejected for political reasons. (he was basically a client of the Pahlavis). Hopefully, this is part of the museum’s collection that will get more attention in years to come, and it’s sad to note that the A.I.C. has never had the kind of comprehensive temporary exhibit of Persian art that Pope once mounted in London, St. Petersburg, and New York. I certainly hope that happens before we get our fifth special exhibit of Cartier-Bresson.

  3. Troy says:

    Surely someone can think of at least one of the Art Institute-depicting works on display in the Contemporary galleries? I’ll post the answers early next week.

  4. Troy says:

    ANSWER TO PUZZLE: 1, 2, and 3. Did I miss any?