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An Art of the Object

ONE OF THE RESULTS OF the Metropolitan Museum’s brilliant installation of its Islamic collections has been that art historians, critics, journalists, and the general public have, willingly or not, been confronted with the need—or, at the very least, the opportunity—to understand the creativity of a culture previously relegated to a few pages in general manuals of art history, if not omitted altogether, as a distant relative of the grand tradition without sufficiently redeeming exotic qualities.

Specialists may have rejoiced at this turn of events, but, as is often the case with academic humanists faced with a large public, they were hardly prepared to answer the legitimate questions of visitors to the galleries: what does one see in objects of so many techniques? What do 9th-century ceramics and 16th-century miniatures or rugs have in common? Is this an art which stylized the forms of Late

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