Secrets of Buddhist Art: Tibet, Japan, and Korea exhibition opens at Frist

 Attributed to Gyeju (flourished ca. 1680s). Seated Buddha, Korea, 17th century, Joseon Period (1392–1912). Wood, lacquer, gold, and rock crystal. Newark Museum, Purchase 2013 Mr. and Mrs. William V. Griffin Fund, 2013.26

Attributed to Gyeju (flourished ca. 1680s). Seated Buddha, Korea, 17th century, Joseon Period (1392–1912). Wood, lacquer, gold, and rock crystal. Newark Museum, Purchase 2013 Mr. and Mrs. William V. Griffin Fund, 2013.26

This winter and spring, visitors to Nashville’s Frist Center will enjoy opportunities to examine the art of Buddhism in unusual depth. Organized by the Newark Museum exclusively for the Frist Center, Secrets of Buddhist Art: Tibet, Japan, and Korea explores one of the great faiths of the world through paintings and sculptures by Japanese, Korean, and Tibetan artists. On view in the Center’s Ingram Gallery from February 10 through May 7, 2017, the exhibition features 109 paintings and sculptures from the Newark Museum’s world-renowned collection of Buddhist art made between the late thirteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Secrets of Buddhist Art provides a basic understanding of how these artistic objects function within the esoteric or “secret” Vajrayana branch of Buddhism.

Between the fourth and third centuries BCE, Buddhism split into two main branches: Mahayana and Theravada. Seven-hundred years later, in the third century, a third form, called Vajrayana, rose within the Mahayana branch. This esoteric school dominates Tibetan practice and is also prominent in Japan. Its devotees participate in initiation and empowerment ceremonies kept secret from outsiders.

“A key to understanding these secrets is to study the complex array of both human and divine figures within esoteric Buddhism, as well as the rich, multilayered vocabularies of motifs that instruct and assist practitioners,” says Katherine Anne Paul, curator, Arts of Asia, Newark Museum.

This exhibition marks the first time that a selection of traditional Korean art—including a major depiction of the Geumgangsan Diamond Mountains on a folding screen, as well as 15 other pieces—will be presented in Nashville.

“The thematic groupings of objects intentionally transcend national boundaries and encourage viewers to compare each cultures’ interpretations of Buddhism and their distinguishing aesthetic forms and styles,” says Frist Center curator Katie Delmez.

As the featured component of the exhibition’s education gallery, Ritual in Action: Making a Mandala Sand Painting, seven Tibetan monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery in India will construct a sand mandala with millions of grains of colored sand. Mandalas are elaborate circular designs that are intended to represent the universe or a cosmic order. The making of temporary sand mandalas is an expression of devotion unique to Tibetan Buddhism.

“The mandala connects to the older works of art and reminds us that this is very much a living practice,” says Frist Center curator Katie Delmez.

Beginning on Friday, February 10, visitors can watch the monks work for five consecutive days. The mandala will remain on view for the duration of the exhibition. On Sunday, May 7, the monks will return for the Frist Center’s Free Family Festival Day, ritually destroying the mandala in a closing ceremony that symbolizes impermanence.

Also opening on February 10 is Claire Morgan: Stop Me Feeling.