What to Get for the Ruler Who Has Everything

June 2, 2011

“Hey Queen Elizabeth, what’s on your iPod?” 

Could there be a stranger question to ask the Queen? And yet, thanks to a gift from President Obama back in 2009, she could now reasonably be expected to answer, “The Fugees.” This trendy gift followed a previous gift from Obama to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown of a DVD box set (including copies of Citizen Kane, Psycho, ET, and The Graduate).

I was reminded of these gifts while listening to NPR last week, which detailed his latest gift to the Queen on his latest diplomatic tour—a photo album containing photographs of the Queen’s parents’ 1939 visit to the U.S.  The NPR story, which also delves into past diplomatic gifts during the Bush, Clinton, and Johnson administrations, explains the importance of such gifts between heads of state. As former chief of protocol Lloyd Hand put it, “The substance of the visit could be very challenging, but if you create an atmosphere conducive to people wanting to work with you, then you’re successful.”

This isn’t a new idea, as our latest exhibition, Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts,  makes clear. The show, which is on view now for members and opens Sunday to the public, looks at gift-giving in the Islamic world during the eighth through nineteenth centuries. It is broken down into three sections: personal gifts, pious gifts, and diplomatic gifts.

Portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah, Iran, Tehran, c. 1800–1806, Musée du Louvre, Paris, on loan from the Musée National de Versailles (M.V. 6358), photo © Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY (ART412052), by Hervé Lewandowski

Clearly the diplomatic gift has a long and far-reaching history. As the gifts in this exhibition demonstrate, they weren’t always so cheeky. Take for instance this portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah (r. 1797–1834), who presented his portrait to none other than Emperor Napoleon in 1806. The depiction of the shah, in opulent jewels and a golden throne, was intended to communicate to the empire-building Frenchman that Iran possessed both might and political stability.

Sindukht Comes to Sam Bearing Gifts, folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, Iran, Tabriz, 1525–1535, Aga Kahn Museum Collection, Geneva (ADM00496), photo © Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Geneva

Elsewhere in the exhibition you can find pages from a 1525–35 folio of the Shahnama, or “Book of Kings,” which were originally produced for the Shah Tahmasp. The Shah later sent them as a gift to the Ottoman Sultan Selim II in 1567, who had recently taken the throne. Included in these pages of the Shahnama are textual and visual references to gift giving, as well as long lists of gifts from one ruler to another. In addition, Shah Tahmasp also gave the Sultan a Qur’an manuscript, possibly written by ‘Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammed.

Now that’s a gift. Your move, Obama.

Scott Tennent

A Burtonesque Weekend

June 1, 2011

This past weekend, Tim Burton kicked off with a bang. Visitors came literally from all over the world to be the first to experience the exhibition and all of the related programs and installations around campus.

The turnout for Tim Burton’s book signing on Saturday was huge! The line started at the bottom of the stairs at Wilshire and Spaulding, went all the way east on Wilshire, snaked left at Curson, and stretched almost to 6th Street. Luckily, the weather was gorgeous and everyone waited patiently for a chance to meet the filmmaker.

Hey, at least it wasn't winter in New York

On Sunday, the exhibition opened to the public and toddlers, children, teens, parents, grandparents, friends, Burton fans, LACMA fans, artists, curiosity-seekers, and the like wandered through the whimsical world of Tim Burton.

Even the door said "cheese" for this photo.

For LACMA staff, it was an all-hands-on-deck kind of weekend.  Staff and a dedicated group of volunteers helped answer questions, sign people up for memberships, sell tickets, hand out audio/video tours, man the galleries, and generally be ready to help wherever needed.

We love our volunteers!

They're always happy to help.

We loved everyone’s enthusiasm and especially loved all the amazing fashion tributes to Tim Burton. Visitors dressed the part from head to toe…

So many sock options! Horizontal stripes...

...vertical stripes

...and Burtonesque bows.

There were even times when visitors themselves almost became a part of the exhibition because of how much their style reflected Burton’s aesthetic.

We've asked these two to just hang out permanently, since they fit in so well.

Even the baby is Burtonesque!

We are very excited that Tim Burton is finally open. Thanks to everyone who was a part of the opening weekend! Check out additional images from the weekend on our Facebook page.

Alex Capriotti, Marketing Associate

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