Tobacco heiress, philanthropist, competitive surfer and wartime journalist Doris Duke (1912-1993) just might be the original 20th century bohemian chic goddess. In 1936, the globetrotting art collector purchased a 4.9-acre oceanfront property on the south shore of Oahu and began to build the now-legendary Shangri La, to accommodate the vast and historic collection of Islamic art and antiques from her travels. The exquisite home, which incorporates handcrafted architectural ceilings, doors, tiles and decorative marble jali screens from India and Morocco, as well as mother-of-pearl- and ivory-inlaid wooden furniture from Iran and Syria, has long been an inspiration to travelers, artists and interior designers. And who wouldn’t swoon over a 19th century northern Indian hand mirror made from jade, gold and gemstones?
Now, signature furnishings and decorative objects from Duke’s collection are on view at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Art Park along with images of Shangri La by famed Los Angeles interior photographer Tim Street-Porter. But hurry. The show, titled “Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art,” runs through Dec. 28 and is part of the Los Angeles / Islam Arts Initiative involving nearly 30 cultural institutions throughout the city.
Donald Albrecht, co-curator of the show and co-author of a 2012 Rizzoli book with Thomas Mellins, says Shangri La “was a personal statement. Duke did not see herself as a tastemaker for the general public. However, toward the end of her life, she established a foundation to promote scholarly research and broad-based understanding and appreciation of the art and architecture of the Islamic world.”
Even so, Duke’s bold integration of Islamic design in a tropical island setting certainly resonates with Southern Californians who have, in recent years -- and in growing numbers -- incorporated Moroccan tiles and lanterns and bone-inlaid furniture into both Spanish and modern homes. In Duke’s living room, shown at top, there is a careful balance of ornate antiques and handcrafted pieces from the Middle East and India that sit comfortably with the lean modern sofa and draperies created by the acclaimed modernist textile designer Dorothy Liebes.
“The juxtapositions of Islamic works and an American modernism gives the house its distinction,” Albrecht says.
And at least some of Shangri La’s theatrical flair came from Hollywood, Albrecht adds: “The wildly colored dining room is the work of Tony Duquette, probably in the 1960s, who had designed movie sets for MGM.”