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Sackler Gallery to Receive Major Collection of Central Asian Textiles

Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor, 202.633.0523, Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000

June 16, 2005

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is to become the primary recipient of Central Asian ikat textiles from the Guido Goldman collection—considered the finest in the world. The Sackler Gallery's extensive loan policy will enable U.S. and foreign museums to mount major ikat exhibitions in the future. A series of three of these astonishing textiles will be displayed at the Sackler beginning in late July and continuing through the end of the year.

Twelve American and European museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and other venues for the 1997–2000 traveling exhibition of these works, will receive smaller donations. A comprehensive catalog raisonné of the Goldman collection, "Ikat, Silks of Central Asia" by Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andrew Hale, received the George Wittenborn Memorial Award in 1997.

"This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Sackler," says Julian Raby, director of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. "Dr. Goldman's generous gift of more than 100 textiles will make us one of the foremost centers for the study of Central Asian ikats in the world. We are very excited to be able to work with such a historically important and visually stunning group of textiles and bring it to the attention of a wider public through exhibitions, publications and related public programs."

Ikat was the pre-eminent 19th-century urban textile art in Central Asia. The Goldman collection consists primarily of rare early to mid 19th-century ikat wall hangings, representing the highest development of the art. The collection also includes sumptuous silk and silk-velvet ikat robes that served as symbols of rank and status among the elite and in the courts of the Central Asian Khanates.

Ikat silk wall hangings and robes are distinguished by their brilliant colors and unique, intricate patterns. Ikat master craftsmen used a painstaking resist-dye method in which the fabric's design was dyed onto the individual silk threads before the fabric was woven. Ikat designs were often inspired by more traditional arts—the dowry embroideries of urban women, the carpets and textiles of the nomadic peoples of the steppe and the elaborate tile work of the medieval Islamic period. In ikat, these design elements are highly abstracted and rendered with an energy unsurpassed in the textile arts. Each completed ikat presents a master craftsman's unique artistic vision—a distillation of all the arts of the ancient Silk Road.

Although the centuries-old ikat method has been employed throughout the world, the technique reached its height in Bukhara, Samarkand, and the Ferghana Valley, in the present Republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, during a 100-year period beginning in the early 19th century. Ikat production was a remarkable example of craft cooperation within the multiethnic populations of the urban centers of Central Asia. The tasks of preparation of the warps—marking the design, tying and dyeing the threads, and weaving and finishing the ikat fabrics involved diverse groups, including Muslim Persian and Uzbek-speaking peoples and Central Asian Jews.

Traditions of household decoration with ikat wall hangings and the wearing of ikat robes on special occasions were shared among all urban dwellers. The nomadic Turkoman and Kirgiz also prized ikat fabrics acquired through trade. After the Russian colonization of Central Asia, ikat dyeing and weaving were simplified to compete with manufactured fabrics. Under Soviet rule, the small workshops that produced handmade ikats were closed, and a factory-made printed ikat fabric replaced the traditional craft.

The Collector
Guido Goldman is director of the Program for the Study of Germany and Europe at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University, where he served as founding director from 1969 to 1974. He is also co-chairman of the Board of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Goldman also serves as a vice-president of the Board of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

An early interest in modern painting and sculpture provided the formal grounding for Goldman's appreciation of ikats as works of art. A chance viewing of an ikat hanging in a New York City gallery led Goldman to his first acquisition.

According to Goldman, "I saw them as wonderfully bold, colorful, individual works of art that moved me in the same way as did a painting by Kandinsky, Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler."

Although Goldman had not originally intended to build a major collection, he soon realized that his acquisitions represented an important part of a cultural heritage that had been dispersed after the establishment of the Soviet Union. Together with the curator of the collection, Gail Martin, Goldman spent several decades selecting and refining the collection. Specialized conservation practices and exhibition and storage facilities were developed in order to protect the fragile antique fabrics. In 1998, Goldman was elected to the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan in recognition of his work to document and preserve the textile heritage of Central Asia.

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th-and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. This summer the galleries will remain open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays in July. Public tours are offered daily except Wednesdays and public holidays and are subject to docent availability. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the special exhibition-related section of the galleries' website at

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