The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan Exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

. February 28, 2011 . 0 Comments

The Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art present “Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan,” a major new traveling exhibition that combines majestic sixth-century Chinese Buddhist sculpture and 3-D imaging technology to tell the compelling story of one of the most important groups of Buddhist devotional sites in early medieval China. On view on view through July 31, 2011.

Carved into the mountains of northern China, the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan, pronounced “shahng-tahng-shahn”) were the crowning cultural achievement of the sixth-century Northern Qi dynasty (550-577 CE). Once home to a magnificent array of sculptures—monumental Buddhas, divine attendant figures and crouching monsters framed by floral motifs—the limestone caves were severely damaged in the first half of the 20th century when their contents were chiseled away and offered for sale on the international art market.

Because of the extensive damage to Xiangtangshan, it has been all but impossible for recent observers to appreciate the original appearance of the caves or to understand the rich and complex artistic and religious achievement they once represented. In recent years, research and new technologies have made it possible to digitally envision some of the caves as they appeared before their tragic despoliation.

In “Echoes of the Past,” ancient sculptural masterpieces will be united with a set of innovative digital components, including a video installation that offers an immersive, kinetic re-creation of one of the largest stone temples. Touch screens and research kiosks will offer more detailed information about the site and the themes explored in the exhibition.

“This exhibition is the culmination of an imaginative application of digital technology, years of scholarship and an unprecedented collaboration with Chinese art historians and archaeologists,” said Keith Wilson, associate director and curator of ancient Chinese art at the Freer and Sackler galleries. “Museum visitors will have a rare opportunity to experience these beautiful sculptures within their original historical, religious and social contexts. The format offers a new approach to understanding and interpreting damaged cultural sites.”

Image: Rendering of the “digital cave” video installation. Image by Jason Salavon and Travis Saul.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
1050 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC
www.asia.si.edu

Category: Antiquities

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