September 20, 2007

A Visit to China Institute

The entrance to China Institute's East Side townhouse is marked by two stone lions guarding a bright red door. It's hard to miss, and last evening the doors were open to welcome guests to a preview reception for their new exhibition "Buddhist Sculpture from China: Selections from Xi'an Beilin Museum 5th through 9th Centuries". This show is remarkable in that for the first time this important Chinese cultural institution has allowed major works from its collection of Buddhist art to travel outside the country. It is a fabulous show and is a true landmark for the New York China Institute Gallery.

Both experts and neophytes in Asian Art will be amazed at this presentation of over 70 magnificent sculptures and objects. The evolution of stylistic interpretations of Buddhist art over four centuries of dynasties is clearly seen in the superb examples on display. From the early Northern Wei Dynasty (circa 500) comes an impressive Shakyamuni on a lion throne flanked by Bodhisattvas - a stunning sculpture made of sandstone and red pigment. The Sui Dynasty (581-618) followed and is represented here with standing twin Guanyin Bodhisattvas carved out of white marble. Sculpture from the later Tang Dynasty (late 7th - early 8th Century) includes an eleven-headed Guanyin with 8 (left from the original 10) small Bodhisattva heads set in a crown-like arrangement on the primary head and is also made of white marble.

Like Buddha himself, who passed through many prior forms of existence before being born as Siddhartha, these sculptures evolved over the centuries as the themes in Buddhist art and religion developed.

China Institute was founded in 1966 by a group of American and Chinese educators with the goal of establishing a cultural and educational not-for-profit organization and ultimately a better understanding between the two worlds. Judging from the crowd enjoying lichee wine and dim sum hors d'Ĺ“uvres after the viewing, the link between the United States and contemporary China is alive and well and thriving on 65th Street.

The exhibition remains open until December 8. I urge you to visit and be transported to another world!

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