LACMA Unveils an 18th-Century Reception Room From Damascus

When this 18th-century reception room from Damascus first arrived at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it came in 24 crates of architectural remnants, albeit with no photograph to guide reassembly. “It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle only we didn’t know how it should look,” recalls Linda Komaroff, LACMA’s curator of Islamic Art. “But it told us a lot about itself. We just had to hear what it had to say.” Richly decorated—with painted woodwork, gesso relief, tin and brass leaf, Arabic inscriptions, and stone inlay—the interior would have been the centerpiece of its Ottoman-era home, constructed at a time of economic prosperity. The house survived until 1978 when the room was disassembled, traveling to Beirut then London before ultimately being acquired by LACMA in 2014. By then, time had taken its toll. Conservators spent nearly two years cleaning the damaged surfaces, all the while preserving human touches like wrought-iron nails and hooks. The museum will soon unveil the restored marvel in its new show, “Dining with the Sultan: The Fine Art of Feasting,” on view from December 17 through August 4, 2024. Visitors will have the opportunity not only to peer into the space through open shutters but also step inside of it, immersing themselves within its four ornately detailed walls. “It’s not really a period room per se,” Komaroff reflects, comparing the experience to standard diorama-style installations. “People tend to think of the past in black and white. But this is kaleidoscopic.”

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