After feeling like the universe shrunk to the size of a laptop screen for the previous two and a half years, there is a strong need to be surrounded by solid items, particularly really large gems. The timing was right when “Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity” made its North American premiere and lone North American visit at the Dallas Museum of Art this weekend after receiving glowing reviews in November at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
There are now more than 400 artifacts on display, including legendary Cartier pieces (some of which have never been publicly displayed) and Islamic art from local and international collections. Sarah Schleuning, co-curator at the DMA, explained that the intention was to investigate how ideas migrate between cultures through commerce, travel, and trends, as well as “what it means to be inspired.” It is effective, neatly contrasting Cartier designs with the inspirations of Louis J. Cartier, a renowned collector of Persian and Indian paintings, manuscripts, and other things, and his younger brother Jacques, a frequent traveler to India and Bahrain.
The 1847-founded Cartier was the first jewelry business to establish an archive department in 1973, and began collecting their own vintage designs a decade later. The heritage department was established in 2003 in part to open Cartier’s doors to visiting curators, as the house has a firm policy of never curating its own museum exhibitions. During a press preview, Cartier’s image and heritage director Pierre Rainero observed, “Only an external eye may be at the origin of the display at a public exhibition.” The Dallas Museum of Art, with its commitment to cross-cultural programming and scholarship led by Dr. Agustn Arteaga, the Eugene McDermott director, and, thanks to a 15-year loan of the Keir Collection, one of the country’s preeminent collections of Islamic art, provided the French house with the vision it required. According to Texas Monthly, Arteaga’s six-year time at the DMA was highlighted by a series of blockbusters that “combined popular appeal with unique perspectives: Christian Dior’s couture, Van Gogh’s olive orchards, gold regalia from Ghana, and Mexican Modernist art starring Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.” “Dallas is such a varied community,” Arteaga remarked during the preview, highlighting the city’s expanding Muslim population. “We intend to produce exhibitions that are reflective of these constituencies.”
It was always intended that the show would be a three-way cooperation with the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Mercedes Abrams, CEO of Cartier’s North American division, remarked, “It’s ironic because the show was meant to debut in New York on the same date a year ago, but COVID struck, so Paris got it first.” If you believe that Paris and Dallas are unusual bedfellows, you haven’t been paying attention to who has been purchasing jewelry recently. Since the first store opened in 2007, Dallas has been a crucial market for the company. Abramo stated, “From a business perspective, Texas and Dallas are extremely essential to us, as Texas has become a market that is rapidly expanding.” “Because the DMA is a world-renowned institution, and because of its Islamic art collection alone, it was the ideal site to highlight the interaction between their permanent collection and our products.”
The display does an excellent job of highlighting the many inspirations that were prevalent at the period of Cartier’s most legendary masterpieces (many featured are from the 1920s and 1930s). Chinese jades, Indian jewelry, and Islamic arts and architecture are cleverly diagrammed and dissected to demonstrate their relationship to Cartier pieces such as Wallis Simpson’s 1947 amethyst and turquoise bib necklace, one of Doris Duke’s diamond bandeaus, and Marjorie Merriweather Post’s three-tiered carved emerald brooch. There is also one of the most impressive presentations of the brand’s Tutti Frutti creations in recent memory (including an elaborate showstopper of a necklace on loan from an anonymous collector). Displays illustrate the history of Indian carved emeralds as well as Cartier’s custom of integrating fragments of plaques, ceramics, amulets, fabrics, and painted miniatures into new creations, known as apprêts.
Liz Diller of the architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro was in charge of both the Paris and Texas shows. Using visual gimmicks, digital video, and glass display cases to guide the observer through the room, the exhibition’s design in Dallas possessed a subtle genius. “Immersive experience is a catchphrase for all these exhibitions, but this is the first I’ve seen where the item is encased yet you can enter it and walk around it,” said Dr. Arteaga. In one example, you view a video diagramming an antique balustrade and observe how its construction easily transfers to a coral and diamond tiara; in another, you see how the etching on a rock crystal flask from 1025 inspired a platinum and diamond tiara created 900 years later. Diller stated, “What’s so fascinating about this entire undertaking is that there’s a thread here that’s been captured by a mind and designers and the sequence of interpretations.” It is really fascinating to comprehend and consider how information is formed.
“Ultimately, all of these immersive features draw you back to the thing to better comprehend it,” stated Schleuning. “Cartier was an extraordinary collector of Islamic art, but it was his generosity that struck me.” (He would lend out his collection for designers to examine.) It is very exciting to exhibit works from 120 years ago in order to inspire new creators to dream and think. Another incentive to visit Dallas before the September premiere of the show is that nothing beats witnessing the genuine thing.