Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Himalayan Shanghai

Finally had a chance to see the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang! Well, seven of them, and in facsimile. They are presented in a huge purpose-built structure, designed to evoke the sand cliffs where the caves were carved and, from above, the dunes of the surrounding desert. see as an ordinary tourist heading to the far west to the actual site.) It was all part of a huge exhibition at the Himalayas Museum in Pudong (no connection to the mountains; it's part of a sci-fi worthy complex with the Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel). The seven cave models were presented
in a huge purpose-built structure which entirely filled a three-story atrium, designed to convey the sandy cliffs where the caves are carved and, seen from above, the dunes of the surrounding desert. The models were quite impressive (though murals aren't as dramatic as the carvings in Yungang!) Accompanied by hundreds of painted copies of murals from other caves, in a myriad of styles, some of this grand show heads to the Getty soon. And yes, it's
Shanghai, but I suspect it's not that different from what one could actually see as a tourist if one went to Dunhuang itself. I've seen images from Dunhuang before, but never in such profusion, and to scale. One gets a little tired of replicas, wondering if these are more schematic than the originals, but I realize I have only ever seen replicas, as the originals are too fragile and faded to be photographed. Viewing in situ as at Yungang's not an option.
Did I mention that the exhibition is very big? It gets a bit overwhelming, or would, were there not mixed in with the replicas cool works of Buddhist-inspired contemporary art worthy of a show of their own.
The connections to the Dunhuang materials are suggestive at best, but the ensuing "dialogue" is enjoyable in its way, and some of the works are quite fun, like the "Blue Buddha" of Nam Jun Paik in my video above, a recording of a recitation of the Heart Sutra which we can only see as vibrations of speakers beneath sound proofing glass domes by 郭工 Guo Gong, or the fancifully faddish map of world religions by 邱志杰 Qiu Zhijie (close-ups!).
Even Kailash (Gangrenboqi) is represented, in a model of Himalayan salt by Li Yongzheng, which is supposed to evaporate over the course of the exhibit with help of a humidifier! Not Dunhuang, but Himalayan!
(And yes, it was at this exhibit that Sponge Bob reappeared, in a place where viewers were invited to contribute to filling out some mural images which were faded beyond recognition.)

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