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Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts to present "Reflections of the Buddha" in September

A superb selection of some of the greatest Buddhist sculptures and hanging scrolls held in United States collections, representing several major traditions and sites of production from the late 2nd to the 18th centuries, will be on view to the public in the serene and light-filled Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts from September 9, 2011 through March 10, 2012 in the exhibition Reflections of the Buddha. The exhibition opens with a public reception on Friday, September 9, from 5 to 9 p.m.

Standing Prince Shōtoku at Age Two (Shōtoku Taishi Nisaizō) c.1292. Japan, Kamakura period, 1185–1333. Japanese cypress (hinoki) wood; assembled woodblock construction with polychromy and rock-crystal inlaid eyes, 26 3/4 x 9 3/4 x 9 in. (67.9 x 24.8 x 22.9 cm) Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick Sr. and Ellery Sedgwick Jr., 99.1979.1 Photograph by Junius Beebe © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Marking the beginning of the Foundation’s tenth-anniversary season, Reflections of the Buddha will offer visitors a unique encounter with Buddhist visual and spiritual traditions, experienced in harmony with the contemplative atmosphere of the Foundation’s building, designed by master architect Tadao Ando. Each of the twenty-two historic masterworks chosen for the exhibition will be installed to permit the attentive, unhurried viewing for which the Foundation is known. Three related works of contemporary art will add resonance to the experience: a set of photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto conveys the sensation of seeing 1001 sculptures of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara; a video by Oscar Muñoz evokes the evanescence of life; and a major work by Ellsworth Kelly, Blue Black, created specifically for the Foundation as a permanent feature of its building, provides a meditative focal point in the exhibition.

According to Francesca Herndon-Consagra, Senior Curator of The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and curator of the exhibition, “The title of our exhibition looks back toward a Tibetan elaboration of the legendary origin of all images of the Buddha. It is said that King Udayana commissioned a sandalwood image of the historical Buddha (Buddha Sakyamuni), but the artist could not bear to gaze directly at his brilliance. He could work only from a reflection that the Buddha cast on the surface of a pool. Our exhibition develops the metaphor of this legend by showing how Buddhism has been reflected over the centuries in different cultures across Asia. We also consider how certain forms of meditation seek to call up reflections of the Buddha within oneself, and how the experience of the artworks we are showing, and of the Foundation itself, is literally reflected in the pool that Tadao Ando designed for the center of our building.”

Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Founder and Chair of the Foundation, stated, “The decision to begin our tenth-anniversary season with Reflections of the Buddha speaks volumes about our mission. Through its extraordinary loans, this exhibition bears witness to our close, collaborative ties with other institutions. Through its sharp curatorial focus, and the contribution it has made to research and conservation, it testifies to our role as facilitators for scholarship. Perhaps most important of all, through its choice of subject matter, it upholds quietly but eloquently our conviction that art is an illumination, which can transform individuals and the society in which we live.”

Artworks exhibited in Reflections of the Buddha are on loan from Asia Society, New York; Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection; Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Saint Louis Art Museum; Oscar Muñoz/Sicardi Gallery; and a private collection. As part of the exhibition initiative, the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts collaborated with the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum on research and conservation work on the wood sculpture Left Hand of a Colossal Buddha Amitabha, attributed to Kaikei, from c. 1202. The Foundation will hold a series of symposia devoted to issues regarding the research, conservation and display of these objects. An illustrated publication and online catalogue will also be made available.

Plan of Reflections of the Buddha

Visitors to Reflections of the Buddha will be greeted in the entrance gallery by one of the most important Japanese sculptures in the United States, Standing Prince Shotoku at Age Two (Shotoku Taishi Nisaizo) (c. 1292, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum). The oldest extant work of its type from the Kamakura period, the woodblock sculpture shows the prince (574-622) who is said to have welcomed Buddhism to Japan, joining his hands in prayer at the age of two (according to legend), chanting the Buddha’s name and miraculously manifesting a Buddhist relic.

This is the introduction to a gallery devoted to Pure Land sculpture in Japan. A form of Mahayana Buddhism, Pure Land venerates the Buddha Amitabha, who is said to preside over a western “Land of Bliss” where seekers may be reborn on their way toward Enlightenment. Increasingly popular in Japan during the 11th and 12th centuries, Pure Land gave rise to many commissioned sculptures of the Buddha Amitabha, characterized by elements including the use of wood (often cypress) and lacquer, along with a naturalistic treatment of the body and the adoption of inlaid rock-crystal for the eyes. Other works in this entrance gallery include a wooden Head of a Celestial Attendant (c.1053, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum) from the late Heian Period, which is attributed to the studio of the artist Jocho and was likely connected to the body of one of 52 celestial attendants accompanying a colossal Buddha Amitabha statue at the Hoodo (Phoenix Hall) of the Byodo-in in Uji, near Kyoto. Two thirteenth-century wooden sculptures by different generations of artists in Japan associated with the artist Kaikei of the Kamakura period are also in this gallery. One of these latter works is the left hand of a colossal sculpture of Buddha Amitabha, probably from the Shin-Daibutsu-ji Temple, reportedly sixteen feet tall and modeled after a Sung-period Buddhist painting. The hand, now in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, is being researched and published with the assistance of The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.

The Main Gallery of the Foundation will primarily be devoted to Indian and Chinese stone sculptures of the historical Buddha (Buddha Sakyamuni) and his cousin, the Monk Ananda. Visitors will see how the sculptural tradition of the Gandhara region in the north of the subcontinent, active in the 1st through 4th centuries, along with the art of 5th-century Mathura school of India, influenced the Northern Qi (550-577), Sui (581-618 CE), and Tang (618-907) dynasties in China. This grouping encompasses a period of Buddhist expansion, when a quintessential Buddha image was created in India and then disseminated throughout central and eastern Asia. Also on view in this gallery will be a triptych of photographs by the contemporary Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sea of Buddha (1995), showing 1001 sculptures of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara from the Heian period (794-1185) in the Sanjusangendo Temple in Kyoto, “glistening in the light of the morning sun rising over the Higashiyama hills as the Kyoto aristocracy might have seen them.”

The Foundation’s Cube Gallery will feature six works representing different Vajrayana Buddhist (also known as Tantric or Esoteric) traditions in Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia and China, from the 11th through the 18th centuries. Three of the works are thangkas (paintings on cloth), used as spiritual teaching tools and aids toward enlightenment. The other three works are superb gilded bronze sculptures: a Newari image of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara from the Kathmandu valley in Nepal (late 10th or early 11th-century, Asia Society, New York), one of the earliest extant examples of the use of semiprecious stone inlays to decorate a Buddhist sculpture; a standing figure of the future Buddha Maitreya (late 17th-century, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum), attributed to the Mongolian monk Zanabazar, who took Indo-Nepalese characteristics from Tibetan art and fused them with Chinese elements; and an elegantly cast seated figure of the Bodhisattva Tara, a female Buddha (15th-century, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum) who is the most popular goddess in Tibet. An inscription on the work’s base states that it was made in an imperial workshop, established by the Chinese emperor Yongle, which produced sculptures for donation to Buddhist temples.

Only two works will be displayed in the Foundation’s Lower Main Gallery. One is a high-relief stone sculpture, originally mounted on a wall, from the Pala period in the region of modern-day Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh. Carved in the late 11th or early 12th century, the sculpture (Asia Society) is an image of the seated Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, intended to be contemplated from a head-on view. The other work—created especially for the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and permanently installed in this gallery—is Blue Black (2001) by Ellsworth Kelly, a large-scale, vertical wall sculpture that is also meant to be contemplated as “a kind of modern icon” (in the artist’s words). It “should meet the eye—direct.”

The final section of Reflections of the Buddha, installed in the Foundation’s Lower Gallery, presents dazzling gilded sculpture and gold-line painting on indigo-colored supports. In Buddhism, gold is emblematic of the radiance of Enlightenment. The labor and great expense taken to produce these devotional objects also helped everyone involved to gain karmic merit. In this gallery are intimately scaled gilded bronze and silver sculptures from China and Korea from the 8th through 15th centuries. The groupings will demonstrate the influence of Tang dynasty bronze sculpture on Korea, including one of the best Silla dynasty bronzes from Korea in the United States, Standing Buddha (8th or 9th century, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art). Also on view will be a magnificent illustrated copy of the Lotus Sutra, one of the most popular and influential Buddhist texts, made in 1432 in the imperial workshop of the Ming dynasty. On loan from the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, this copy of the Lotus Sutra will be installed across one wall of the gallery (though with different sections of the text alternating on view during the course of the exhibition, for reasons of conservation). Mounted near the Lotus Sutra will be another example of gold-line painting on indigo-dyed support, the mid-13th-century Womb World Mandala (Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection) made for use in a Tendai sanctuary in Japan, allowing visitors to compare their different cultures, aesthetic qualities and devotional functions.

The final work, bringing the themes of the exhibition into a contemporary context, will be a silent, two-minute video by the Colombia artist Oscar Muñoz. Titled La Linea del Destino (Line of Destiny), this work from 2006 is itself a meditation on the evanescence of life, showing the artist’s own image reflected in a handful of water, which gradually drains away through his fingers.

Source: The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts [April 25, 2011]

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