Media only: Megan Krefting 202-633-0271; kreftingm@si.edu
Public only: 202.633.1000

February 25, 2010

Washington, DC–An extraordinary Buddhist shrine room will be on public view for the first time at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from March 13, 2010, through July 18, 2010. “The Tibetan Shrine from the Alice S. Kandell Collection” will offer visitors a unique opportunity to encounter superb works of Tibetan Buddhist art in the sacred context in which they were first created and displayed. The shrine room is considered to be the only one of such magnitude and artistic quality in the United States.

“The experience of entering the room is really quite profound and moving,” said Debra Diamond, curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Freer and Sackler galleries.”The gilded and bejeweled sculptures, which are massed together on altars within the dimly lit confines, radiate warmth and palpable benevolence and offer a powerful aesthetic revelation.”

The shrine is rare, both in terms of size and quality. An exquisite Mongolian silver Buddha with seashell and coral adornments; a superb gilded bronze of the goddess Tara with a gem-encrusted crown; jewelry and attributes; and thangkas (scroll paintings), framed within their original silk brocade and possessing their original finials, are among the many highlights. The massing of gilded, patterned, jeweled and draped objects re-creates the glowing ambience in which the objects were originally encountered.

The works of art, created between the 13th and 19th centuries in artistic centers on the Tibetan Plateau and in China and Mongolia, are arrayed in a religiously correct manner: Ritual implements are placed on lower tables, while images of the Buddha appear in the highest and most prominent positions. Acknowledged by practicing Buddhists as a sacred space, the shrine room has been used for contemplation and worship by monks and lamas, and many of the objects have been blessed by the Dalai Lama. Many of the pieces have come directly from Tibetan diaspora families who requested that their pieces be kept in a sacred manner.

For collector Alice Kandell, the exhibition is the culmination of many years of appreciating and collecting Tibetan sacred art, combined with a longstanding desire to share her important collection with the public. “I have always wanted to offer the same joy and fulfillment that I have gotten from this shrine room to others, so I am delighted that the Smithsonian Institution is helping to present the shrine in a way that retains its integrity,” said Kandell.

For decades, Kandell acquired hundreds of bronze sculptures, thangkas, textile banners, painted furniture and ritual implements. Her interest in Tibetan art and culture began during her college years, when she took the first of many trips to Sikkim, Tibet and Ladakh. Throughout her career as a child psychologist in New York, she continued to pursue her love of Tibetan Buddhist sacred art, traveling, collecting and documenting the art and culture of the region in two books of photography, Sikkim: The Hidden Kingdom (Doubleday) and Mountaintop Kingdom: Sikkim (Norton).

In 1994, Kandell merged her own collection with that of Philip Rudko, a serious collector of Tibetan and Mongolian art for more than 40 years, to create one of the most comprehensive Tibetan art collections in the United States.

The upcoming Sackler exhibition represents the first time the shrine has been moved from its location in the collector’s New York City home for public display.

An accompanying publication, A Shrine for Tibet: The Alice S. Kandell Collection, was published recently by Tibet House US, and features extensive full-color photography. The volume contains a foreword by the Dalai Lama and essays by Robert A.F. Thurman, scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and co-founder of Tibet House, and Marylin M. Rhie, the Jessie Wells Post Professor of Art and professor of East Asian Studies at Smith College.

“The Tibetan Shrine from the Alice S. Kandell Collection” is organized by the Sackler Gallery. The exhibition is a centerpiece of “In the Realm of the Buddha,” a celebration of Tibetan Buddhist art and related programs that the galleries will present in the spring and summer of 2010.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., together house the nation’s collections of Asian art on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or visit asia.si.edu.