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Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery Celebrates Reopening with Exhibition on Buddhist Heritage

Washington D.C.'s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery reopens this weekend (14 October) with a highly anticipated exhibition in partnership with the Robert H. N. Ho Foundation as lead sponsor. “Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia” explores Buddhist tenets and practices through its art and sacred places.

The Historical Buddha Central Tibet

14th century Gilt copper with pigment

Purchase—Friends of Asian Arts in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S1997.28

“By juxtaposing sculptures, fascinating objects and sacred sites, we show how Buddhist visual culture conveys profound and often universal concepts, such as compassion or the urge to move beyond suffering,” explains Debra Diamond, the Freer|Sackler’s curator of South and Southeast Asian Art.

Two celestial beings China, Kucha, Kizil, Cave 224 or 205

6th century CE Gypsum plaster with pigment

Long-term loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

gift of John Gellatly LTS1985.1.325.13

Initiation card (tsakali) Western Tibet

15th century Opaque watercolor on paper

Private collection LTS2015.2.60

With a history spanning more than 2,500 years, Buddhism’s indelible mark is felt across Asia, from India to Indonesia, Afghanistan to Japan. Illustrating how Buddhist practices spread and took on local flavours, the exhibition draws on over 250 objects from the museum’s collection. Throughout the exhibition, digital tablets invite visitors to choose their own paths for further learning.

Two experiential spaces also offer visitors a glimpse of the interplay of place and practice. The first, a film installation, transports visitors to a living Buddhist site in Sri Lanka to witness daily practices of devotees during the December full-moon festival. According to tradition, the Runwanwelisaya stupa was created in the third century to house remains of the Historical Buddha. A second meditative installation is the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room. The newly expanded iteration of the shrine from the Alice S. Kandell Collection holds objects created by Tibetan, Chinese, Nepalese and Mongolian artists from the 13th to the 19th century in an assemblage that is rare both in size and quality. Devotional objects are arranged as they would be within the grand domestic shrine of a Tibetan Buddhist noble family. Displayed with no labels or cases, the Shrine Room offers an opportunity for unmediated experience typically not available in art museums, where objects are isolated within cases and surrounded by interpretation.

Film still The Texture of Practice: Sri Lanka’s Great Stupa

Filmmaker Stanley J. Staniski

Detail, The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room from the Alice S. Kandell Collection

Photograph: 2010

Objects: Tibet, China, and Mongolia, 13th–20th century

Mixed media

Gifts and promised gifts from the Alice S. Kandell Collection

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