Thursday, November 13, 2014

Shangri La: A little bit of paradise in LA

It's a breath of fresh air, walking into a gallery full of pre-loved objects: an ivory door with nicks, a tapestry that has clearly seen better days. These are just a fraction of Doris Duke's collection now on view at LA Municipal Art Gallery's exhibition, Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art. The eponymous spotlight of the show is the heiress and philanthropist's estate in Honolulu, envisioned after a honeymoon to India and the Near East; Hawaii was the last stop on she and her (first) husband's return home. Smitten by the landscape, Duke bought land overlooking Diamond Head and immediately drew up the blueprints. 

The heiress filled her home with a vast and varied collection: art from India, Spain, and Central Asia; a collection of Islamic art so substantial that it gave rise to the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. The objects at LAMAG are on loan from the foundation, not including the work of twelve artist residents who spent some weeks at Shangri La in 2010.

The residency clearly left an impression on its benefactors. Iranian artist Afruz Amighi described the estate as an "idyllic Eden." His installation, Rocket Gods, references the omnipresence of naval bases on the island— a strange contrast to the serenity of Honolulu. Here the rockets and missiles are in disguise as chandeliers, much akin to the spectacular ceiling lamps of the Islamic world.

Afruz Amighi, Rocket Gods, 2010
Aluminum and base-metal chain
Photo credit: Parisa Rezvani

It seems to be a trend these days, pairing contemporary art with historic. (Last year the Istanbul Archaeological Museum offered contemporary riffs on the Ravenna mosaics of Byzantium; Versailles now rotates contemporary art in its palace on an annual basis.) But the pairing of historic and contemporary is doubly apropos for this exhibition: Duke was a fan of both old and new. In fact she commissioned living Islamic artists to make work for her estate, including architectural features.

Enjoy some highlights below of the exquisite furniture, clothing and accessories from the LAMAG exhibition, which also appeared at New York's Museum of Art and Design in 2012.

Robe, nineteenth-early twentieth century, probably Turkey
Photo credit: Olivia Fales
Robe (detail)
Photo credit: Olivia Fales

Pair of ear ornaments, nineteenth century, India (Delhi)
Enameled gold, white sapphires, rubies, seed pearls, emerald beads, cord
Courtesy Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Chair, early nineteenth century, Iran
Wood inlaid with ivory, ebony, brass
Photo credit: Olivia Fales

Rosewater sprinkler, eighteenth to nineteenth century, Iran
Glass, mold blown and hand blown
Courtesy Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art
Chest of drawers, late seventeenth century, Spain
Wood, mother of pearl, ivory, ebony, metal hardware
Courtesy Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Doris Duke's Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art runs through December 28, 2014.

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