The Frick Pittsburgh, which postponed an exhibition featuring 10 centuries of Islamic art after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, apologized for the offense its leader’s explanation caused.
The head of the Frick Pittsburgh apologized Thursday for the way she handled the postponement of an exhibition of Islamic art, which had been scheduled to open this month before museum leaders decided to delay it because of the Israel-Hamas war.
In an apology posted on the museum’s website, Elizabeth Barker, the museum’s executive director, acknowledged that the museum had not initially been forthcoming about its decision to delay the exhibition, “Treasured Ornament: 10 Centuries of Islamic Art,” and apologized for causing offense when she later tried to explain the decision.
“There are no excuses for what I said, regardless of my intentions,” Ms. 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 museum initially made no announcement about its decision not to open the show, saying on its website only that the delay was due to “a scheduling conflict.” Ms. Barker later told The Tribune-Review that it was a show “that a forgiving person would call insensitive, but for many people, especially in our community, would be traumatic.” Her comments were denounced by local Muslim and Jewish groups, who said that they perpetuated harmful stereotypes linking Islamic art to terrorism or antisemitism.
“My failure to tell it straight from the beginning undermined trust in our organization and had the effect of retraumatizing people,” Barker wrote in the letter. “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.”
The exhibition was set to feature paintings, metalwork and glassware made by artists of different faiths working in the Islamic world, according to scholars who studied the included artifacts.
In the aftermath of the controversy over the postponement, leaders from the Frick Pittsburgh met with different cultural groups, including the city’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Christine Mohamed, the chapter’s executive director, said that the group appreciated the sincerity of the Frick Pittsburgh’s apology and their commitment to accountability.
“We believe in the power of open dialogue to bridge gaps and build stronger community bonds,” she said in a statement.
The museum has rescheduled the 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.”