The director of Pennsylvania’s Frick Pittsburgh museum apologized on Friday for postponing a show about Islamic art across the centuries. The decision to do so, reported in late October by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, had been done in response to the Israel-Hamas war.
Elizabeth Barker, the museum’s leader, had initially said that she pushed the show back to 2024 because she feared that local Jews and members of other communities might take offense at the exhibition. But Jewish and Muslim groups across the nation, not just in Pittsburgh, ended up denouncing the decision to delay the exhibition.
Even the show’s organizer, International Arts and Artists, spoke tactfully about the postponement, with that nonprofit’s leader, Gregory Houston, telling the New York Times, “There is nothing wrong with the exhibition.”
The show, titled “Treasured Ornament: 10 Centuries of Islamic Art,” was to feature a millennium’s worth of glassware, metal objects, paintings, ceramics, and more, and was expected to open in November. It has now been rescheduled to August 2024, though until the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported on it, there had been no widely available announcement about it.
“I’m writing to apologize,” Barker wrote in a statement posted by the museum to Instagram on Thursday.
“Our failure to communicate clearly and openly about the postponement of Treasured Ornament hurt people we deeply respect in the Muslim community, Jewish community, arts community, and beyond.”
She continued, “There are no excuses for what I said, regardless of my intentions. My words gave the offensive and utterly wrong impression that I equated Islam with terrorism and that I saw Jews and Muslims—communities with millennia of peaceful interconnection—as fundamentally opposed. My failure to tell it straight from the beginning undermined trust in our organization and had the effect of retraumatizing people who were beginning to perceive the Frick as a psychologically safe space for people who hadn’t previously felt welcome here, including the communities of color we have tried earnestly to welcome.”
Barker added that she and other officials at the museum would “hold ourselves accountable to repair the relationships we damaged and earn back the trust we have lost.”