Pittsburgh Museum Apologizes for Delayed Islamic Art Show

“There are no excuses for what I said, regardless of my intentions,” Barker said in the statement. “My words gave the offensive and utterly wrong impression that I equated Islam with terrorism.”

Pittsburgh Museum Apologizes for Delayed Islamic Art Show
The Frick went under fire earlier this month for postponing an exhibition of Islamic art.

Last week, we covered an art museum — the Frick Pittsburgh — that delayed an Islamic art exhibition. Initially citing a “scheduling conflict,” it was later determined by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the postponement was due to the politics surrounding the Israel/Palestine war.

Leaked emails and meeting details indicated that Pittsburgh’s significant Jewish population weighed on the decision to postpone the exhibit. In a follow-up statement to the paper, Elizabeth Barker, the Frick’s executive director, said that after the war began, her staff “realized that we were about to open an exhibition that a forgiving person would call insensitive, but for many people, especially in our community, would be traumatic.” The decision had sparked criticism from both Muslim and Jewish groups in the community for perpetuating harmful stereotypes linking Islamic art to terrorism or antisemitism.

In an update, Barker apologized late last week for her lack of transparency and comments regarding the exhibition, “Treasured Ornament: 10 Centuries of Islamic Art.” 

“There are no excuses for what I said, regardless of my intentions,” Barker said in the statement. “My words gave the offensive and utterly wrong impression that I equated Islam with terrorism and that I saw Jews and Muslims — communities with millennia of peaceful interconnection — as fundamentally opposed.”

The exhibition was set to feature paintings, weaponry, ceramics, fine glassware and other pieces made by artists of different faiths working in the Islamic world.

“My failure to tell it straight from the beginning undermined trust in our organization and had the effect of retraumatizing people,” Barker continued in her statement. “Today, I want to make public my and the Frick’s commitment to hold ourselves accountable to repair the relationships we damaged and earn back the trust we have lost.”

In the aftermath of the controversy, leaders from the Frick Pittsburgh met with different cultural groups. One such group was the city’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who previously described the exhibition’s postponement as “disturbing.”

Christine Mohamed, CAIR’s executive director, said in a statement that the group appreciated the sincerity of the Frick Pittsburgh’s apology and their commitment to accountability. “Our meeting was a positive step forward,” Mohamed said, “fostering understanding and cooperation. We believe in the power of open dialogue to bridge gaps and build stronger community bonds.”

CAIR Pittsburgh said that they remain committed to promoting inclusivity and cultural understanding in their community, noting that they look forward to their continued collaboration with the Frick Museum. The organization added that going forward, they would like to work with the Frick “to ensure that future exhibitions reflect the richness of diverse cultures and contribute to a more unified community.”

The Frick has rescheduled the “Treasured Ornament” exhibition to open in August 2024. The postponed exhibition was organized by the nonprofit International Arts and Artists, which created it on behalf of the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia.

In her apology, Barker said that she had been humbled by speaking with people about the controversy, “including leaders in our region’s Muslim community, who have reframed this moment as an opportunity for us to learn and grow.”

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Fann.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.