by Beverly Fortune, BFORTUNE@HERALD-LEADER.COM
The Kentucky Horse Park museum will host a major international art exhibition in 2010 on the Arabian horse, with the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation underwriting the entire $2.3 million in expenses to stage the exhibition.
A Gift from the Desert: The Art, History and Culture of the Arabian Horse will be announced today by Bill Cooke, director of the park's International Museum of the Horse.
Cooke said the exhibition will be a blockbuster that will showcase the museum during the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. It doesn't get much better than this, he said.
The Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation, an agency of the Saudi government, will pick up the tab for the exhibit and an accompanying one-hour documentary film.
The 9,000-square-foot exhibit will contain 350 artifacts and paintings.
Items will be solicited from major museums around the world such as The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; The Louvre Museum in Paris and The British Museum in London, plus academic institutions and European and American private collections.
Asked about a showcase item, Cooke said an Egyptian Pharaoh's chariot would be very nice.
It wouldn't have to be from King Tut. It could be another Pharaoh; we're not picky, he said. Most such chariots are at the University of Cairo, Cooke said.
A Gift from the Desert will show the significance of horses in the Near East from development of the wheel, chariot warfare, early cavalry, their refinement into a true breed by nomadic Bedouins. It will also show Arabians' impact on the creation of other breeds, including Kentucky's signature breed, the thoroughbred.
Working with Cooke will be guest curators Sandra L. Olsen, curator of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, and Cynthia Culbertson, Arabian horse historian and author.
A Gift from the Desert will open in July 2010 and run through the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which will be held at the horse park. The exhibit will close in mid-October.
Members of the Saudi royal family, as well as royalty from throughout that region, are expected to attend the gala opening. Because of his age, it is doubtful Saudi King Abdullah will attend, Cooke said.
Saudis have a deep appreciation for the horse and what it has meant for their society. They will be wonderful partners to work with, Cooke said. Starting July 1, most of his time for the next three years will be devoted to the exhibition, he said.
This will be the third major exhibition at the International Museum of the Horse this decade.
Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in Chinese History drew 192,000 visitors in 2000. And All the Queen's Horses,an exhibit of British art and artifacts, attracted 175,000 visitors in 2003.
Because A Gift from the Desert will coincide with the World Equestrian Games, at least 300,000 visitors are expected.
When the idea for the exhibit came up two years ago, Cooke knew it would have to be totally funded up front and not conflict with funding for the 2010 games, he said.
That's when he and others who wanted to see another major exhibition at the park knew they would have to look overseas for support.
In a serendipitous turn of events, Cooke was introduced to Jo Franklin, president of Seacastle Films, who did eight documentaries on Saudi Arabia. Franklin agreed to contact Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, former Saudi ambassador to the United States, about the Kentucky Horse Park and its museum.
Horse park officials invited the prince and Franklin to the Kentucky Derby in 2006. They stayed at Lane's End Farm in Woodford County, guests of thoroughbred horse owner Will Farrish, a friend of the prince.
We only had him for a day and a half, Cooke said of the prince, but he had a wonderful time. We had time to talk about the museum. He gave us promising indications of interest.
In February, Cooke and Franklin flew to Riyadh, as guests of the Saudi government. At the end of eight days, the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation, under the jurisdiction of the Saudi government and with approval from King Abdullah, agreed to fund both the exhibit and documentary.
A contract between the Kentucky Horse Park foundation and the federation was signed in early April.
Franklin will produce the one-hour documentary to mirror the exhibition's cultural and equestrian themes.
Yesterday, John Nicholson, president of the horse park, spoke at the annual meeting of the American Horse Council in Washington, D.C. and said he would soon have a major announcement about another event at the horse park.
Nicholson was referring to the exhibition, said Jack Kelly, president of the foundation organizing the games. He was also in Washington.
Kelly praised the exhibition and said international visitors will expect a major cultural component woven through the games. This makes a powerful statement that this is an international event, Kelly said.
LexArts president Jim Clark called A Gift from the Desert an incredible opportunity because it's something people will not see anywhere else. This will make the International Museum of the Horse a destination.
Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or (800) 950-6397.
LOAD-DATE: June 20, 2007