Upcoming Exhibitions

Ancient/Modern: The Design of Everyday Things
June 6–August 31, 2014


Not all of the items we use in our daily life were invented in our lifetime. Many have long and rich histories. Some have remained unchanged over thousands of years. The exhibition "Ancient/Modern: The Design of Everyday Things" will seek to introduce visitors to the concept that artifacts have existed for longer than they imagine, serving the needs of humans for millennia. In some cases, the concept from long ago proved so useful there was little need to improve its design. In others, the need remained, but the form was altered extensively. A selection from the Kelsey Museum collections will demonstrate these notions of change and tradition as they are compared and contrasted with their modern counterparts.


Pearls of Wisdom: The Arts of Islam at the University of Michigan
October 3–December 21. 2014

Pearls of Wisdom

In his treatise on penmanship, the medieval calligrapher Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi equates the calligrapher’s art of beautiful writing to a jeweler stringing pearls. To his mind, both practitioners order the universe in a wise and harmonious fashion. A calligrapher’s training begins with learning the proper proportions of beautiful writing. In the Arabic script, this proportional system of writing is based on the rhomboid—the shape the ink-soaked tip of the reed pen makes when impressed on a writing surface. Each letter of the alphabet is then formed proportionately by measuring its height and width with strands of rhomboids. These calligraphic measuring marks indeed appear as if strings of pearls, thus revealing a continuously dynamic and creative engagement across art forms within Islamic traditions.

The objects included in this exhibition served a wide variety of functions and span several centuries in time. Rather than arranged chronologically, geographically, or by media, the objects in the exhibition are organized by themes inspired by al-Tawhidi. These include the intersections between function and decoration, the aesthetic power of everyday objects, visual play, wit, and magic, connections across art forms, and light symbolism and illumination. Therefore, the exhibition not only highlights the strengths of the collections at the University of Michigan but also explores various themes integral to the conception and production of art in the Islamic world from the medieval period until the present day.