An exhibition of a millennium’s worth of Islamic art that was set to open this weekend at the Frick Pittsburgh has been postponed to next year, the New York Times reported Thursday. The museum said the show was rescheduled so as to avoid becoming “a source of unintended insensitivity or offense” in light of the Israel–Hamas war.
The museum’s website originally claimed the exhibition, titled Treasured Ornament: 10 Centuries of Islamic Art, was delayed by “a scheduling conflict,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported last week. Elizabeth Barker, the museum’s executive director, later told the Tribune-Review that “we realized that we were about to open an exhibition that a forgiving person would call insensitive, but for many people, especially in our community, would be traumatic.”
Not everyone agrees. According to the Times, both Muslim and Jewish groups criticized the postponement, arguing that the decision “seemed to suggest or imply a false connection between masterpieces of Islamic art and terrorism.”
“The decision to postpone the … exhibition under the pretext of potential harm to the Jewish community perpetuates the harmful stereotype that Muslims or Islamic art are synonymous with terrorism or antisemitism,” Christine Mohamed, the executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a public statement.
Adam Hertzman, an official with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, echoed that sentiment on WESA radio, saying “few people in the Jewish community would have been concerned about an exhibit on Islamic art because we understand that has nothing to do with Hamas, which is a terrorist organization.”
In a more fully fledged statement posted to their website, the museum said the exhibition was planned years ago and “it would have been impossible to predict that war would erupt in the Middle East during the time of this show, prompting widespread heartbreak and mounting social tension.” The museum added that, as it stands, the exhibition “lacked sufficient historical and cultural context” and “participation from the regional Islamic community and others.”
The exhibition, which was rescheduled for August of next year, was organized by the nonprofit International Arts and Artists on behalf of the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia. “There is nothing wrong with the exhibition,” Gregory Houston, president and chief executive of the nonprofit, told the Times. “I think the timing was not right for them. We will work with them to reimagine it in the context they deem appropriate.”
Walter B. Denny, a retired professor of Islamic art who helped prepare a publication related to the exhibition, told the Times the postponement is ironic since the exhibition was meant to help people understand the diversity of Islamic art. “The collection is so far away from anything that is remotely political or sympathetic to fanaticism.”