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New technology resurrects ancient Chinese cave at Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery
The Buddhist cave temples that make up the famous Dunhuang complex in northeast China, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are closed to ensure their preservation.
WASHINGTON, DC.- Visitors to the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will be able step into a heated tent in the adjacent Moongate Garden and be transported to a Chinese Buddhist cave, where murals will come alive with musicians, dancers and flying Bodhisattvas. “Pure Land: Inside the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang,” on view Dec. 1–Dec. 9, is an immersive 3-D experience of one of the world’s ancient art treasures and a technological application never before seen in the United States.

The Buddhist cave temples that make up the famous Dunhuang complex in northeast China, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are closed to ensure their preservation. Filled with frescoes and sculpture, the caves are like nothing else in the Buddhist world. “Pure Land,” a project of the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Center of the City University of Hong Kong, in collaboration with the ALIVE project and Dunhuang Academy, allows access to these sequestered masterpieces. The Sackler’s presentation is made possible by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation.

The cave combines laser scanning and ultra-high-resolution photography to create an enhanced virtual tour with music and animation. Details faded beyond recognition in the actual cave appear in their original bright colors, while instruments “play” traditional melodies and dancers move to the music. A digital “flashlight” traces the narrative sequences of the murals, and a “magnifying glass” allows visitors to discover intricacies central to the artwork.

“The Sackler is fast becoming a museum of the 21st century, taking the lead in adapting digital technology to a museum context,” said Julian Raby, The Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. “The ‘Pure Land’ project exemplifies the exhibition experience of the future.”

“Pure Land” will be a highlight of the Sackler’s 25th anniversary celebration held Nov. 28–Dec. 1, and will stay open, free to the public, through Dec. 9. Timed same-day tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Sackler Pavilion.

“Pure Land” will return in the spring of 2013 for a long-term installation in the new International Center Gallery shared by the Sackler and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.



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