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Groundbreaking Buddhist Cave Temple Exhibition at The Smart Museum of Art

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Groundbreaking Buddhist Cave Temple Exhibition at The Smart Museum of Art


Deep in the mountains of northern China, the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtang-shan existed as a major cultural achievement of the 6th century Northern Qi dynasty until the early 19th century, when the site was stripped of its sculptures for sale on the international art market. Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago examines the religious and artistic significance of these caves through their ancient objects; it also imagines the site as it once was, using innovative digital reconstructions.

A monumental bodhisattva begins the exhibit on a traditional note; style, iconography, religious context, and the removal of the sculptures from the caves is desc-ribed. Because Xiangtangshan was damaged so extensively, it has been all but impossible to understand the rich and complex artistic achievement of the caves and visualize their original appearance.

The most unique element to the exhibit, is its basis: a multi-year research project involving scanning and digital simulations. In 2004, the University's Center for the Art of East Asia launched "The Xiangtangshan Caves Project: Reconstruction and Recontextualization," an ongoing project to identify, locate, and document dispersed cave carvings. Using sophisticated 3-D equiptment, the project's imaging team photographed and scanned nearly 100 objects from museums and private collections believed to be from Xiangtangshan.

Organized by the Smart Museum and the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Echoes of the Past is on view September 30-January 16, 2011, before embarking on a tour to Washington DC, Dallas, and San Diego.  Celebrate the exhibition opening Thursday, September 30, with a performance by members of Kansas City's Spoonbender Orchestra. Free, 5:30pm.

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