Exhibit highlights 1001 inventions of the Muslim world

A new exhibit at London’s Science Museum explores the often-forgotten contributions to science from Muslim scholars.

1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in our World follows the contributions of Muslim civilization from the 7th to the 17th centuries. After the disintegration of the Roman Empire, scientific study lapsed in Europe, but soon dynamic civilizations based in the Middle East took up the slack. From important centers such as Damascus and Baghdad came developments in medicine, mathematics, astronomy, geography, and a host of other studies. Muslim scholars were the first to build gliders, the first to create free public hospitals, and the first to use carrier pigeons s a means of quick, long distance communications.

The exhibition is divided into sections such as Home, Town, and Market, each highlighting different contributions to science and daily life. Also discussed is how civilizations in the Middle East preserved many ancient Greek and Latin books in Arabic translations when they were lost in Europe. Later they were translated back into Greek and Latin so Renaissance scholars could read them, thus bringing much of Europe’s heritage back to Europe.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a replica of a 13th century clock by the Arab scholar Al-Jazari that stands more than twenty feet high and celebrates the diversity of knowledge by having an Indian elephant holding up an Egyptian phoenix, Arab figures, a Persian carpet, and Chinese dragons. The clock runs on moving water following a system invented by the Greeks.

In an interview with the BBC, Professor Salim Al-Hassani, one of the exhibition’s organizers, suggested that science lapsed in Islamic civilization after the twin blows of the Crusades and the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols. Much of the Muslim world was taken over by the Ottomans, a bureaucratic state that stifled scientific initiative. Then the scientists of Renaissance Europe adopted their learning and progressed it further, much like the Muslim world took the learning of the Classical World and developed it.

1001 Inventions runs until April 25. Admission is free.

Own a piece of Paris: Eiffel Tower stairs, other artifacts up for auction

Want to own a piece of Paris? You’ll have a chance when historic pieces of the City of Lights go up for grabs on December 14. At the “Paris Mon Amour” (Paris My Love) sale, 18th century tourists maps, antique street benches, and a public phone box from the 1950’s will be sold at auction along with street lamps from the Champs Elysees and a staircase from the Eiffel Tower.

The 40-step section of stairs from the Paris landmark is is just one piece of the original staircase and is expected to fetch €60,000 to €80,000. The Tower’s steps were removed during a renovation in 1983, cut into 24 parts, and sold to collectors around the world. Since then, they’ve been on the auction block only a few times, most recently in 2007 and 2008. The company that manages the Eiffel Tower oversees each auction and apparently, they don’t want pieces of the Tower changing hands too often.

I couldn’t find much information on how to get in on the auction action. But chances are, if you’ve got the cash to drop on stairs from the Eiffel Tower, you’ve also got connections that can get you in.

The auction is part of the celebration of Paris’ 120-year anniversary, which took place this year. Other events scheduled throughout the year included special fireworks displays and exhibits of photos that chronicled the history of the structure.

Museum Junkie: Futurism at the Tate Modern

“Today we are founding Futurism, because we want to free our country from the smelly gangrene of its professors, archaeologists, tour guides and antiquarians.”

On February 20, 1909, the front page of the Italian newspaper Le Figaro was taken up with the Manifesto of Futurism, a new movement of artists, poets, and performers who revolutionized modern art. They rejected all the past–traditional painting, museums, history, religion, marriage, and just about everything else they could think of while embracing modernity in all its forms. They loved movement, anarchy, technology. When World War One started in 1914, they hailed it as the first modern war and formed the Lombard Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists and Automobilists. Their Manifesto stated that war was “the world’s only hygiene.”

The energy of their work, shown here in Impressions in a Dance Hall (1914) by Belgian Futurist Jules Schmalziguag, soon captivated the art world.


Futurism is a new exhibition at London’s Tate Modern that studies the development of this movement. The exhibition covers the movement’s origins in Italy and its rapid spread across Europe from England to Russia. What started with painting soon made its impact felt in sculpture, literature, architecture, even music. Part of Futurism’s success was the artists’ shameless self-promotion, with more than fifty manifestos coming out in the five years after the initial one in La Figaro. Some of these manifestos and Futurist literary magazines are also on display, along with paintings from the competing movement of Cubism, The Futurists were opposed to Cubism, of course, because it took attention away from them, and were in the habit of calling Picasso a “boor.” They called themselves boors too, so it’s hard to tell if they were really insulting him, or themselves, or neither, or both.

The Futurists would have loved seeing their work in the Tate Modern. The building is a converted power station with a soaring central space that was once taken up by a massive turbine. The museum is filled with modern art, installation pieces, and video displays. This ultramodern setting may have even made the Futurists forget that museums were nothing but “graveyards”.

“Museums, graveyards!” the original Manifesto fomented. “They’re the same thing, really, because of their grim profusion of corpses that no one remembers.”

Futurism started at the Tate Modern on June 12 and runs until September 20.

Museum Junkie: Smithsonian offers real “Night at the Museum”

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is offering a special weekend tour to coincide with the sure-to-be-hit movie “Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian”.

Visitors will learn the real story behind the sites and artifacts featured in the film during the Smithsonian’s “Family Weekend in Washington, D.C.”, on July 24-26. The weekend starts with a dinner with Amelia Earhart at the National Air and Space Museum, followed the next day by a viewing of the film at the the museum’s Imax theater and a special tour of the museum. The second day of the tour includes visits to sites in Washington, D.C. that feature in the movie such as the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial.

The weekend is part of the Smithsonian Journeys series that takes people on informative trips around the world, whether it’s the early Christian sites of Greece and Turkey or the coastal wilderness of Alaska. For those wanting to stay closer to home, “Celebrate Smithsonian!” offers a behind-the-scenes tour of America’s greatest museum, including the newly reopened National Museum of American History. The tour is on September 9-12, but it’s best to book ahead.

Three important American artists and their museums

Tom’s post about the exhibit in Paris of Andy Warhol’s work reminded me of the wonderful Warhol experience I had this past fall at the Wexner Center and my interest in going to the Warhol Museum on Pittsburgh. Museums dedicated primarily to the work of one artist is a way to really see what made a particular artist tick and why his or her work is important to the art scene and culture.

If you want to dive into the world of Warhol, Pittsburgh is a place to start. There are two other American artists who have had an impact on American sensibilities and American contributions to the art scene. Both also have museums dedicated to them. The museums are also places to see works of others who have shared similar muses.

There are other important American artists, but these are the ones I know have museums dedicated to them. If you know of others, please do tell. The museum in the photo is not Warhol’s. Any guesses whose it is and where it is? Read on to find out.

The Andy Warhol Museum

Where? Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Why there? This is the city where Warhol was born and grew up.

What’s at the museum? 12,000 of Warhol’s pieces that include paintings, photographs, prints and video interviews. This sweeping retrospective encompases Warhol’s artistic endeavors from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Why is Warhol important? Warhol whose scope and amount of work can make a person dizzy, is partly responsible for the fusion of art, popular culture and celebrity. The thing about Warhol that I find so interesting is how he turned himself into a celebrity in the process of helping other’s find their spot in the limelight, however fleeting. Warhol is the one who coined the phrase “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”

Famous works: The portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Chairman Mao, plus Cambells soup cans, Brillo Pads and Warhol’s self-portraits among others.

What else is there? The Warhol Museum is dedicated to promoting the work of other contemporary artists. This weekend is the last chance to see the exhibits: The Vader Project: 100 Pop Surrealistic artists’ versions of Darth Vader’s helmet and The End: a collection of works by artists in response to the economic woes in the United States. These end on May 3, so hurry.

The Georgia O’Keefe Museum

Where? Santa Fe, New Mexico. Why there? O’Keefe drew inspiration from New Mexico’s desert and made the state her home.

What’s at the museum? In the collection are 1,149 of O’Keeffe paintings, drawings and sculptures created between 1901 and 1984. This is the largest collection of O’Keefe’s work in the world. Through September 2009, the painting Jimsom Weed that hung in the White House dining room for 8 years will be on display. This is the flower pictured here.

Why is O’Keefe important? O’Keefe has held her own in a world dominated by men as an avant garde artist who helped form American Modernism. One trademark is her depictions of the natural world in a way that is lush, alluring, and sensual in a manner that is instantly recognizable as her own. Part of O’Keefe’s aim was to show “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it” as she put it.

Famous works: Flowers, cow skulls, New Mexico mountains and architecture.

What else is there? The museum also shows works of other contemporary American artists that typically highlight O’Keefe’s influence.

C. M. Russell Museum

Where? Great Falls, Montana Why there? Charlie Russell moved to Montana from in 1880 ate age 16. He lived in Great Falls until his death in 1926.

What’s at the museum? On exhibit in the permanent collection are 2,000 pieces of Russell’s artwork that show his development as an artist and a storyteller of Western life. Also included are items that were his that highlight his life.

Why is Russell important? With dreams of being a cowboy, Russell switched to being a full-time artist after years of combining the two professions. His love of American Indians and western life helped him create paintings and sculptures that tell the story of the West by someone who knew it well. One of Russells quotes that has a resonance, I think with travelers. “Lonesome makes shy friends of strangers.”

Famous works: American Indians, scenery, cowboys. Two paintings of note. The Jerkline and The Fireboat. The Jerkline is pictured here.

What else is there? Contemporary American western art and photography of other western-themed artists. Here’s a place to learn more about western life through the years. Contemporary artists’ work are also on exhibit, as well as Russell era artists. One current special exhibit that caught my attention is Photographing Montana 1894-1928: The World of Evelyn Cameron. Cameron was a female photographer who captured thousands of images of life and scenery of the West.