By Terry Ingram, on 20-Nov-2011

Michael Brand is travelling the world looking for major examples of Islamic art in private collections to take back to Toronto. Not long ago helping reorganise the administration at the J Paul Getty Museum in Malibu of which he was the director he is is also keeping a close eye on the islamic art  coming up in the saleroom. The Australian expatriate is settling into a job as consultant to the Aga Khan Foundation and Museum that clearly precludes him from candidacy for the directorship of the Art Gallery of  NSW.

The Aga Khan Museum is one component of a two-building complex 15 minutes north of downtown Toronto, consisting of a new prayer hall by the architect Charles Correa, the Aga Khan Museum by Maki and Associates, and a formal Islamic garden by the landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic.

This possibility of NSW was canvassed repeatedly before and after the resignation announcement by Edmond Capon - but more of a wish list than anything else.

Doug Hall, former director of the Queensland Art Gallery, said Brand's appointment as curator of oriental art was one of the best decisions he had ever made.

Brand also made his mark in a similar role at the National Gallery of Australia before becoming one of Australia's leading curatorial talent exports.6pA quiet achiever with considerable personality skills, Brand was last seen in the global salerooms in London in March..

But the latest round of Islamic sales there failed  him. Prime material is not coming up at auction in the same way it is emerging in the Chinese market.

Brand told Terry Ingram in Toronto the Aga Khan Foundation had tended to monitor auction catalogues, of both the dealer and auction variety, a bit haphazardedly as they arrived in the post..

But as the $C160 million building being erected to house some of the the foundation's collection nears completion in 2013 he was looking increasingly to private purchases.

There was no pressure to extend the collection, however. The museum project was as much a museum of architecture, which also has performance spaces, as an arts museum.

These are valued in Toronto, an events city with the Toronto Film Festival one of its leading entertainment industry attractions.

His brief is wide. It was hard to button hole him because of his rushed visit to the Istanbul Biennale (of contemporary art.)

The wide scope of the museum, with its attached Ismaili Centre, reflects the present Aga Khan's interests. The collector in the family was the late Prince Sadruddin,

The collection acquired from this uncle is the source of the the bulk of the museum's show pieces.

The Aga Khan is 45th descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.

A recent exhibition gave some idea of the exhibits which will be permanently houses in the museum.

The travelling masterpieces highlighted such items as a pair of 17th century Mughal dragon goblets with jewelled cups, an 18th century Iranian portrait of  Persian ruler Karim Khan Zand, a 1682 manuscript of the Mughal Quran and a 17th century Ottoman quilt cover.

Some acquisitions appear to be not so valuable but tenderly mesmerising, like a chestnut leaf with Islamic script.6pAppointed quietly a year ago, the former director of the J Paul Getty Museum appears to have a  job to die for. It returns him to the interest with which he broke into the art world. He studied Islamic art at Harvard University.

However, the Aga Khan organisation is noted for relying on volunteer labour and to be modest in its public relations efforts.

Brand's appointment was the subject of a very brief announcement which was not widely circulated.

He declined the opportunity of a formal interview. But from his description of the plans for the new museum he has an exciting project that will keep him occupied for at least another two years.

Its constituency is a quarter of the world's population (Muslims) and it ministers indirectly to the rest.

The museum, due to open in 2013, will be dedicated to the acquisition, preservation and display of artefacts - from various periods and geographies - relating to the intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious heritage of Islamic communities.

It contains over one thousand artefacts and artworks and spans over one thousand years of history.

They include objects in ceramic, metalwork, ivory, stone and wood, textile and carpet, glass and rock crystal.

The architect of the 10,000 metre structure is Fumihiki Maki who is responsible for many imaginatively conceived arts and corporate structures around the world including the Center for the Arts, Yerba Buena Center, at San Franciso, California and the newly completed fourth tower of the World Trade Complex in New York.


Brand pointed out that Toronto was a museum city which included several museums under private control including the Bata Shoe Museum.

The Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum had recently been revitalised and extended,

The Aga Khan's commitment to Toronto is based on an affection for the country which opened its doors to Muslims persecuted by Idi Amin in Uganda in the 1970s.

About The Author

Terry Ingram inaugurated the weekly Saleroom column for the Australian Financial Review in 1969 and continued writing it for nearly 40 years, contributing over 7,000 articles. His scoops include the Whitlam Government's purchase of Blue Poles in 1973 and repeated fake scandals (from contemporary art to antique silver) and auction finds. He has closely followed the international art, collectors and antique markets to this day. Terry has also written two books on the subjects