Shangri La calls to mind a secluded paradise, an exotic place that evokes the mysteries of the ancient Orient.
For the late philanthropist and art collector Doris Duke, her 5-acre retreat in Honolulu was that place. She used the name of the mythical oasis for her earthly slice of Eden on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and filled it with the art and architecture of the Islamic world that enthralled her all her life.
A selection of the artifacts she assembled is being shown for the first time outside the estate at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art celebrates the year of her 100th birthday and is intended to give a wider audience a look at the interplay among Shangri La’s modernist 1930s architecture, its oceanside Hawaiian locale and the tobacco heiress’ Islamic art collection, said Deborah Pope, director of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, which acquired the title to Shangri La after Duke’s death.
Shangri La is a 14,000-square-foot house on a sprawling complex that includes a guesthouse, 75-foot-long saltwater pool, terraces, lawns, gardens and water features. The exhibit features large-scale digital screens of newly commissioned photographs by Tim Street-Porter of its exterior and interior. Many of the 70 objects in the show are seen in the photos as they appear in the elaborately appointed Islamic-inspired rooms and courtyards.
Duke first fell in love with Islamic art and architecture on her honeymoon in 1935. She and her groom, James Cromwell, traveled throughout the Middle East and South Asia, finishing up in Hawaii where, captivated by its beauty, they decided to build Shangri La.
Duke was raised in a Fifth Avenue mansion in Manhattan and was the only daughter and heiress of tobacco magnate John Buchanan Duke. She shunned publicity all her life, and Shangri La was built in Hawaii in large part so she could avoid the glare of the media.
Exhibition co-curator Tom Mellins described Shangri La as an “inventive synthesis” of the traditional and modern. As Duke collected historic works, she commissioned new ones too, from artists in India, Morocco, Iran and Syria, Pope said.
“This juxtaposition of old and new to create an environment, an architectural context in which to display historical works, is what makes Shangri La so unique,” she said.
The exhibition also features new works by six contemporary artists of Islamic descent who were all artists in residence at Shangri La.
• Doris Duke’s Shangri-La runs through Feb. 17 at the Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, Manhattan; www.madmuseum.org or 212-299-7777. Adults, $15; students and seniors, $12; children 12 and under, free. The exhibition will travel to six other museums, including the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach.