Embodying Compassion in Buddhist Art: Image, Pilgrimage and Practice was the first transcultural exhibition in America solely devoted to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who emerged in India two thousand years ago to become a venerated deity throughout Asia. Like all bodhisattvas, this figure selflessly leads others to enlightenment, but Avalokiteshvara’s special role is to exemplify limitless compassion, a fundamental ideal in Mahayana Buddhism. Sometimes appearing as male, sometimes female, he is known as Chenrezig in Tibet, Guanyin in China, and Kannon in Japan.
This exhibition presents over 30 outstanding examples of Indian, Nepalese, Chinese, and Japanese art from prominent institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, The Rubin Museum of Art, Asia Society, and The Newark Museum, augmenting objects from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s permanent collection and other sources. It demonstrates how artistic depictions of Avalokiteshvara inspire his followers through contact with auspicious images, pilgrimage, and daily spiritual practice. Providing a rare opportunity to compare different representations of Avalokiteshvara from many Asian countries, the exhibition also reveals the core Buddhist beliefs that underlie his many manifestations, and why this bodhisattva still plays such a vital role in Asian culture today. Curated by Karen Lucic, professor of art at Vassar College, the exhibition, catalogue and digital resources of Embodying Compassion in Buddhist Art are supported by E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation; The Henry Luce Foundation; ASIANetwork Luce Asian Arts Program; John Stuart Gordon ’00; Elizabeth Kay and Raymond Bal; Ann Kinney ’53, and Gilbert Kinney. Institutional support at Vassar includes: Agnes Rindge Claflin Fund; Emily Floyd Fund Endowment; Ford Scholars Program; Carolyn Grant Endowment; Office of Religious and Spiritual Life; and Salmon Fund Endowment.
An in-depth website that explores the exhibition's images and themes can be found here.
This exhibition was held in the Focus and Project Galleries from April 23 to June 28, 2015.
The objects in this linked gallery demonstrate the many ways that artists have represented Avalokiteshvara throughout the centuries.
Attributed to Shugen (fl. 1469–1521), Japan, Muromachi period; hanging scroll, ink on paper; 32 ¼ x 14 5/16 in.; The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Purchase, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leo Steinberg (Dorothy Seiberling, class of 1943); Elizabeth Woodcock, class of 1925; Bertha Mather McPherson, class of 1928 and Philip Johnson, by exchange, 2014.29.
In medieval India, Avalokiteshvara’s legendary island Potalaka represented the ultimate destination for seekers of the bodhisattva. As his worship spread throughout Asia, each country established its own locations for face-to-face encounters with the deity. The objects in this linked gallery depict the countless pilgrims seeking worldly and spiritual benefits from sacred sites.
Japan, Edo period, 16th–early 17th century; hanging scroll, ink, colors, and gold leaf on paper, 59 x 59 1/2 in.; The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Pratt Fund and Betsy Mudge Wilson, Class of 1956, Memorial Fund, Purchase, 2004.10.
The objects in this linked gallery relate to daily spiritual activities, such as spinning prayer wheels, reading, copying or venerating sutras, paying homage to statues and paintings, reciting mantras, and engaging in elaborate Vajrayana techniques of visualizing the deity.
Amitayus (Center), China, Qing dynasty, 18th century; gilt bronze; H. 7 1/8 in.; The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Gift of Daniele Selby ’13, 2014.31.4.
White Tara (Left), Sino-Tibetan, 19th century; bronze with cold gold and inlays; H. 7 in.; The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Gift of Daniele Selby ’13, 2014.31.1.
Six-Syllable Lord of the World (Shadakshari Lokeshvara) (Right), Tibet, 18th century; gilt bronze; H. 5 3/4 in.; The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Gift of Daniele Selby ’13, 2014.31.3.