Marlies Kleiterp is Director of Exhibitions at De Nieuwe Kerk and the Hermitage Amsterdam. After graduating from Leiden University as a classical archaeologist in 1988, she worked at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden for 15 years, eventually as Director of Exhibitions. She joined the management team of the Nieuwe Kerk/ Hermitage Amsterdam in 2005, and has been responsible for the exhibitions at both institutions ever since. Passion for Perfection – Islamic Art from the Khalili Collections is on view at De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam, The Netherlands, until April 17, 2011
Homa Taj – De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, originally founded at the start of the 15th century, has served as a cultural center since 1979 as Nationale Stichting De Nieuwe Kerk. Can you say a few words about your mission and the nature of your activities?
Dr. Marlies Kleiterp – The aim of De Nieuwe Kerk is to present a range of activities to a broad public, which highlights its architecture, history and/or national significance. The large winter exhibitions at De Nieuwe Kerk focus on the art of different cultures and peoples as well as on the world religions, with we hope will generate greater awareness and understanding. The exhibitions are accompanied by an extensive public programme with debates, lectures, music, children’s activities etc.
HTN – When was the first time that you became familiar with the Khalili Collection?
MK – My first knowledge of the Khalili Collections is hard to pin down, but I remember very well my first personal experience, which was at De Nieuwe Kerk’s exhibition Earthly Beauty, Heavenly Art in 1999/2000. Then I was still working at the National Museum of Antiquities so not involved with its organisation. During the past decade I saw a few more of the shows from the Khalili Collections, such as the astonishing enamels exhibition in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
HTN – How do you think the Khalili Collection has evolved over the past decade – based on your observations of the earlier exhibition project?
MK – The concept of the exhibition at that time was from a different perspective. The Guest Curator was Prof. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum, and he put together a great exhibition with loans from various institutions and collections, among which was that of Nasser D. Khalili. The current exhibition is drawn solely from the Khalili Collection, which is in itself remarkable not only for the high quality but also the breadth which is unparalleled.
HTN – In addition to enormous resources – perhaps not always or necessarily money – that have been allocated toward the formation of a collection of this magnitude, what criteria would you say are needed to create a critical collection of art?
MK – As for the criteria of collecting art, I would say: that collecting is very important, as this is a way to conserve them for the future. To create a good collection you need – apart from money – your eyes, your knowledge and your heart. You should also not keep the collection for yourself, but also share it with the people around you.
HTN – The Arts of Islam has been exhibited at various exhibition spaces since 2007. Did you have a chance to see this particular aspect of the collection at any of those venues? Also, is the exhibition set to travel to other destinations?
MK – I did see the Arts of Islam exhibition at the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris last year. The approach there was rather different from ours: they had focused on the religious aspects first, then the arts from the court and the different craftsmanships. In De Nieuwe Kerk we present each object for its beauty, on its own. We do not focus on Islam as a (world) religion, we do not put the objects in any specific religious or secular context. The art is being grouped on the basis of its function and form, thus stressing its beauty, and superb craftsmenship. In this way we created eight themes that can be viewed in any sequence. To support this approach, all showcases are covered with mirrors, so that every object can be seen from different sides and angles. The reflection of the objects encourages the visitor to examine them more intensely.
HTN – Did you, at any point, find yourself faced with any major – anticipated or unexpected – challenges while organizing this show?
MK – A practical challenge was putting all the mirrors on the showcases, more than 1 kilometer of mirrored glass. To mirror all the (high) showcases, to clean them thoroughly and to keep them shiny is and will be our biggest task!
HTN – This is not (necessarily) a challenge, but I am intrigued by the idea of exhibiting Islamic art – especially objects that are inspired by religious architecture – in a space that used to be a church…
MK – Using the mirrors, the showcases are less unobtrusive, and the Islamic art appears to float in the church. The architecture of the church is also reflected resulting in some spectacular and sometimes unexpected views. So the Islamic art is in direct dialogue with the Christian symbols of the church’s architecture. That is magic. Bearing in mind that the art has been collected by a Jew closes the circle and stresses the connection between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
HTN – Speaking of exhibitions, are you familiar with Prof. Khalili’s plans to found a private museum in London?
MK – I am familiar with this idea, and I support it with all my heart. For two reasons: the collection is fabulous and deserves to be shown, and secondly: I strongly support the passion of David Khalili: to heal the world with art; it is also the aim of De Nieuwe Kerk to bridge cultures and peoples with art. This can only be done by showing the art, and not putting it away. I know that David Khalili is very generous in lending objects for specific exhibitions and educational purposes, hence founding a permanent exhibition space will be a desirable medium to strengthen this mission.
HTN – What are your next major projects?
MK – The next project will be a great exhibition on Judaism and then a show on Native American art.