Copper in the Arts

February 2018

Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia

By Robyn Jasko

A unique retrospective of copper, brass, and bronze buddha sculptures from around the world offers an impressive glimpse of these majestic pieces of art. Encountering the Buddha, on view through November 29, 2020 at The Smithsonian, brings together more than two hundred artworks, spanning two millennia, to explore Asia’s rich Buddhist heritage. They represent diverse schools that arose from the Buddha’s teachings. Today, this extraordinary art is a source of beauty and contemplation for audiences across the world. 

The Historical Buddha Central Tibet, 14th century Gilt copper with pigment Purchase—Friends of Asian Arts in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S1997.28The Historical Buddha, Central Tibet, 14th Century, gilt copper with pigment. 
Photograph courtesy The Smithsonian.

The path to becoming a buddha is long and difficult. In most traditions, it takes countless lifetimes of exemplary virtue to achieve this goal. The journey to awakening begins with a sincere vow to become a buddha for the benefit of others. Those determined to follow this path to buddhahood are called bodhisattvas.

Artists typically depict bodhisattvas as radiant figures, richly adorned with jewelry as an outward expression of their perfected inner virtues. It reflects the good karma they have garnered through innumerable virtuous deeds over many lifetimes.

Drawing on collections from across Asia, this rare exhibition expands the understanding of Buddhism in Asian art through both beautiful objects and immersive spaces. Visitors can step into a Tibetan Buddhist shrine, travel the Buddhist world with an eighth-century Korean monk, visit a Sri Lankan stupa, meet teachers and guardians, and discover multiple buddhas and bodhisattvas. Encountering the Buddha illuminates the ways in which art and place embody and express the teachings of Buddhism.

Inside the shrine room within Encountering the Buddha, visitors encounter Tibetan Buddhist art in a manner that evokes the sacred precincts of the Himalayas. More than two hundred objects, assembled by the New York collector Alice S. Kandell over many years, reflect Tibetan Buddhist concepts and customs rather than museum conventions.

Buddhism is practiced by millions around the globe and holds a rich and diverse history spanning more than 2,500 years. Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia reveals how art and place are central to Buddhist understanding and teachings. With more than 250 objects, including several rare bronze and copper sculptures, two immersive environments and integrated digital platforms, the exhibition shares the stories of Buddhist objects and artworks, describing the beings that they represent and the people who engaged with them, their ritual use, their sacred power and their remarkable beauty.


Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC

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