NYC exhibition depicts ancient Buddhist caves
A full scale replica cave from the 8th century that contains the Bodhisattva of the Mogao Caves is presented in "Dunhuang: Buddhist Art at the Gateway of the Silk Road," at the China Institute, in New York, Tuesday, April 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
NEW YORK (AP) — The China Institute Gallery has been transformed into an ancient cave, taking visitors back more than a millennium to a dazzling world where Buddhist worshippers adorned the walls with colorful frescoes, silk prayer banners and lavishly painted life-size clay sculptures.
"Dunhuang: Buddhist Art at the Gateway of the Silk Road" features a replica of an 8th century cave carved into the limestone cliffs at the edge of the Gobi Desert southeast of the oasis town of Dunhuang from 366 to about 1300.
It is one of 735 Mogao Caves constructed during what is known as the high Tang period (705-781), designed for devout Buddhists to gather and worship. Nearly every inch is covered in art, with a canopy ceiling resplendent in floral and diamond shapes. One end is filled with life-sized sculptures of a Buddha flanked by two monk disciples wearing luxuriously patterned robes, two bare-chested figures and two ferocious-looking guardians in military armor.
A woman views a full scale replica cave from the 8th century that contains the Bodhisattva of the Mogao Caves, in "Dunhuang: Buddhist Art at the Gateway of the Silk Road," at the China Institute, in New York, Tuesday, April 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
While there have been exhibitions that have featured individual pieces from the Mogoa Caves, this is the first exhibition in the United States to put all the elements of the cave shrines into context, said Annette Juliano, a professor of Chinese art history at Rutgers University.
It shows the "relationship between the architecture, the pictures, the subject matter and the (ritual) practices . the actual use of the cave, rather than just an abstraction," added Juliano, who visited the caves for the first time in 1980.
Many of the caves are exquisitely preserved but others are fragile due to neglect over the centuries and the conditions of the surrounding desert and sand dunes. To protect them from further erosion, tourist access is limited to several dozen caves a day that are rotated regularly.