|The First Art Newspaper on the Net
||Established in 1996
|| Wednesday, October 26, 2016
|Specialists photograph drawings painted on the walls of the Mogao caves in northwest China|
Wang Xudong (R) director general of the Dunhuang Academy, oversees a project to document in photographs frescoes on the wall of the Mogao caves in Dunhuang, northwestern China's Gansu province. From the fourth century onwards the 492 largely hand-dug caves near Dunhuang, a desert oasis and crossroads on the Silk Road, acted as a depository for Buddhist art for around a millennium. But their unique appeal is the very thing that is putting them under threat, with every visitor's entrance, body and breathing altering the delicate environmental balance inside the chambers. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones.
By: Sebastien Blanc
DUNHUANG (AFP).- Inching their cameras along a rail inside the chamber, specialists use powerful flashes to light up paintings of female Buddhist spirits drawn more than 1,400 years ago.
One click after another illuminates colourful scenes of hunters, Buddhas, flying deities, Bodhisattvas and caravanserais painted on the walls of the Mogao caves in northwest China, considered the epitome of Buddhist art -- and now in existential danger.
From the fourth century onwards the 492 largely hand-dug caves near Dunhuang, a desert oasis and crossroads on the Silk Road, acted as a depository for Buddhist art for around a millennium.
Unesco describes the World Heritage Site as "the largest, most richly endowed, and longest used treasure house of Buddhist art in the world".
"Dunhuang is where Chinese, Greek and Roman, Islamic and Indian arts meet," says Mimi Gates, a former director of the Seattle Art Museum who is helping to preserve the caves, and stepmother to Microsoft founder Bill.
But their unique appeal is the very thing that is putting them under threat, with every visitor's entrance, body and breathing altering the delicate environmental balance inside the chambers.
The remote site in Gansu province saw 800,000 visitors in 2012, up 20 percent in a year. The recommended daily maximum is 3,000, but as many as 18,000 arrived on one public holiday last October.
"When tourists enter the caves, the humidity, the temperature and the carbon dioxide increase abruptly," said Wang Xudong, director general of the Dunhuang Academy.
The wall paintings themselves contain "a lot of natural salts that have come out of the rocks over 1,200, 1,500 years, the age of these wall paintings", he explained.
If the humidity goes above a critical value, "then the salts can suck the moisture out of the air and start the deterioration process".
But authorities must strike a difficult balance between limiting access to visitors and avoiding alienating them, particularly the hundreds of thousands of primarily Chinese tourists whose numbers are steadily rising.
"Every child in China in growing up learns about Dunhuang. It is one of the great sites, so when they grow up they want to come here, and they do now that they have the money to," says Neville Agnew, a project specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute who has worked with the academy for 25 years.
The digitisation project -- which has been running for decades -- is part of the solution, a grand project to transform the way visitors are received and cut the time they spend inside, even as numbers rise.
It is an immense task. The paintings cover 45,000 square metres (485,000 square feet) -- if set in a single mural three metres high, it would stretch for 15 kilometres.
Thousands of images are taken of each chamber, using specialised lights to avoid damage, and then laboriously computer-processed to create a precise cyber replica.
"Digitising the caves is very difficult," said Wang. "We began in the 1990s but at the time it was a failure. We continued in the year 2000 thanks to technological advances."
The key challenge is capturing the freshness of the colours, particularly natural pigments such as vermilion and malachite green, as well as any areas that are not flat, such as corners and sculptures.
"We have six working teams here on a very intense schedule. Each team must digitise three to four caves a year," said Wang. "Our goal is to reduce the amount of time that tourists spend in the caves, to minimise the damage that they cause."
Once the new system goes into effect next year visitors will be overseen as soon as they reach the airport -- essentially the only convenient entry point for Dunhuang -- and have to stick to a tightly controlled sightseeing circuit.
In a domed theatre currently under construction they will view high-definition images of the inside of the chambers, before taking a glimpse inside the real thing -- but only for a limited time.
"The typical tour might be 10 caves, and of those 10 caves there would be two or three of these so-called must-see caves," says Agnew.
Long after Dunhuang's heyday, the Silk Road eventually fell into disuse and it was largely forgotten by the outside world, with most of the caves abandoned.
In 1907 Hungarian-British archaeologist Aurel Stein led an expedition to the area and paid to remove large numbers of manuscripts, paintings and textiles. A French mission under Paul Pelliot acquired thousands of items the following year, and Japanese and Russian expeditions soon followed in their footsteps.
But the latest collaboration will preserve Dunhuang for future generations, say those involved, and make the masterpieces available to academics and amateurs around the world online.
"The painting is superb, the painting is unbelievable, the paintings are just masterworks of paintings, and in a variety of styles over the dynasties as they changed," said Agnew.
"History is here, art is here."
© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse
May 26, 2013
Specialists photograph drawings painted on the walls of the Mogao caves in northwest China
MoMA celebrates Ellsworth Kelly's 90th birthday reuniting The Chatham Series paintings of 1971
Emerging and lesser-known artists seek global audience at Hong Kong's Art Basel
Early works on paper produced by Robert Motherwell on view at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Rare paintings of Vermont by Edward Hopper return for the summer to Middlebury College Museum of Art
Painting once in the possession of HRH Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, to be offered at Christie's
With Paul Schimmel as new partner, Hauser & Wirth plans Los Angeles art space
Day after Kabul attacks, 10,000 peace balloons by conceptual artist Yazmany Arboleda handed out
Marian Goodman announces new exhibition of works by Giuseppe Penone
T-Rex maxilla, featuring seven teeth, leads Bonhams Natural History Auction in Los Angeles
Mitchell-Innes & Nash open their first solo exhibition of Daniel Lefcourt's work
Works on paper (1953-1986) by William Scott on view at Denenberg Fine Arts in Los Angeles
A stellar line-up of artists will be present at the Tenth Vauxhall Art Car Boot Fair
Margaret Harrison wins 2013 Northern Art Prize
New paintings by Groningen-based artist Coen Vunderink on view at Galerie Gabriel Rolt
New series of exhibitions at AndrewShire Gallery presents the work of Skip Arnold and Doug Harvey
New York-based painter Joseph Montgomery's first solo museum exhibition opens at MASS MoCA
Visual artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas' work enters permanent collection of the British Museum
Morton & Eden to sell rare Ptolemy V Tetradrachm from Acre
Italian sports and racing exotics head to RM's eagerly anticipated Monterey sale
Most Popular Last Seven Days
1.- New light shines on Sandro Botticelli masterpieces at Florence's Uffizi Gallery
2.- Cincinnati Art Museum's Van Gogh exhibition brings guests Into the Undergrowth
3.- Degas retrospective debuts in the U.S. at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
4.- Special exhibition features large-scale photography by Richard Mosse & Edward Burtynsky
5.- Nobel panel gives up knockin' on Dylan's door
6.- An unprecedented, international-loan exhibition of works by Claude Monet is at the Kimbell Art Museum this fall
7.- Exhibition at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek explores Rousseau's landscapes
8.- Yoko Ono unveils her first permanent US art installation
9.- ArtReview's annual Power 100 names Hans Ulrich Obrist as the artworld's most powerful figure
10.- British artist David Hockney makes a splash at Frankfurt fair with 2,000-euro book
Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .
|Royalville Communications, Inc|
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.