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CMA completes renovation, expansion

1/23/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Shown is “Layla and Majnun in the Wilderness with the Animals,” which is on display in the Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim Collection of Deccan and Mughal Paintings at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art
CLEVELAND — When the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) first started a massive expansion and renovation project eight years ago, it seemed like it would be a long time before the completed project would be finished and all the wonderful artistic treasures would be in their new homes for visitors to enjoy.

As of Jan. 2, the last segment, the west wing, re-opened to the public. It contains the vast holdings of central and southeastern Asian works of art.

CMA offset undue worry by making available reconstructed areas as soon as they were finished. That helped, but it also meant that certain portions of the holdings would not be on view for some time. That was the case with the Asian collections. After eight years, they are finally on view again — and what a grand new home they have.

In walking through, the visitor can see, as CMA Communications Manager Saeko Yamamoto noted, that some of the rarest, most valued, most expensive and highly sought out pieces got special seats of honor. They are placed where they will be most noticeable, in the center of one of the galleries or maybe at the end of a long corridor dressed in light against the wall of a gallery on the perpendicular, like the early eighth-century “Tomb Guardians” made of glazed earthenware.

It is clear curators have taken great care in placing the works with some intelligent and highly aesthetic ideas in mind. For instance, a large statue of “Shiva as Lord of the Dance” sits in a glass-enclosed atrium at the end of the west wing, in a setting much as it would have from the place where it was taken.

Some pieces are gathered by the kind of material from which they were made (limestone), by color (reddish-looking statues on one side of a room and gray on the other), by genre (as in the huge collection of ceramics of Ming vases and the impressive array of calligraphy works) or by subject matter (such as nods to the spread of Buddhism).

As it has with the reopening of other galleries during the renovation, CMA highlights this time a recently acquired and utterly magnificent purchase from last year as part of the celebration. It is the Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim Collection of Deccan and Mughal Paintings, a group of works acquisitioned in 2013. The works represent, according to CMA officials, an unparalled private collection of 95 works, which were selected from the large collection, from India’s major Islamic courts from roughly the period from 1526 to 1858.

The Mughal Empire began in what is now Uzbekistan and spread southeast through Afghanistan, Kashmir, northern India and on into Bangladesh. Interestingly, the emperors traced their lineage on the mother’s side from Genghis Khan and on the father’s side to Timur, the ruthless Turkic prince who was widely known in medieval Europe as Tamerlane.

That might explain the fascination for things Persian and the fusion of Central Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern art forms into what is clearly defined as Mughal art.

Seemingly characteristic of the genre are illustrated stories, like the multi-part “Tales of the Parrot” (of which CMA has 334 of the original 341 individual pieces) and the collection of paintings of courtiers into an album for the emperor to have — kind of like a political family tree to show the extent and reach of the empire. The result — paintings of figures in various native dress and settings that become a kind of record of social, fashion and political history.

Most of the pieces on display seem to be opaque watercolors, with various inks and gilt mixed in to liven up the objects or scenes in the works themselves. The exhibit includes items that come from the far reaches of the empire.

The CMA, 11150 East Blvd., is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 800-262-0033 or visit www.clevelandart.org. Admission is free.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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