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First selling exhibition of Buddhist art at Sotheby's in more than a decade announced
A Grey Schist Standing Bodhisattva, Ancient region of Gandhara, Kushan period, circa 3rd/4th century. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Coinciding with the auctions and events of Asia Week in September, Sotheby’s will present a selling exhibition, Footsteps of the Buddha: Masterworks from Across the Buddhist World, the first of its kind in more than a decade at Sotheby’s. Offering an extraordinary opportunity for collectors and connoisseurs, the selling exhibition traces the historical development and transformation of Buddhist art as it traveled throughout Asia from the 2nd century through the 21st century. This exhibition features pan-Asian Buddhist paintings and sculptures from the ancient regions of Gandhara, Nepal, Tibet, Korea, China and Japan. Organized jointly by Sotheby’s Asian art division, the exhibition aims to introduce important Buddhist artwork to a wider audience. The works will be on view in our New York galleries from 3 through 23 September.

“With the success of SHUIMO/Water Ink in March we are delighted to be hosting the Footsteps of the Buddha selling exhibition during our Asian Art auctions in September. These exhibitions in our state-of-the-art second floor galleries allow us to showcase an area of Asian Art in depth and have been enthusiastically received by collectors both here and around the world,” says Henry Howard-Sneyd, Vice Chairman, Asian Art.

Jacqueline Dennis, Specialist, Indian & Southeast Asian Art Department, notes, “This exhibition provides collectors and connoisseurs with a unique perspective on a variety of cultures through the prism of Buddhism. The 31 pieces in this exhibition display the distinct artistic heritages and aesthetics of their countries of origin, but at the same time, they share a common history and iconography. They express Buddhist philosophical concepts, show how Buddhism influenced the culture of the countries it penetrated, and how those countries made Buddhism their own. These timeless works of art also show how Buddhist art transformed through space and time, and continues to be a vital force in Asia today.”

A major highlight of the exhibition is an extraordinary grey schist standing Bodhisattva, a superlative example of Gandharan style of sculpture. The region of Gandhara, located at the center of the Silk Routes, was particularly influenced by Hellenistic culture resulting from the travels and military campaign of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. The legacy of Hellenism that he left was integrated into local traditions, out of which was born the Gandharan School of art, a unique mix of East and West. This monumental work of art from circa 3rd/4th century is from a particularly unique period of Asian and Buddhist history.

A magnificent 12th century West Tibetan bronze figure of Bodhisattva Manjushri is an early work influenced by Kashmiri and western Himalayan sculpture. This rare, elegant and proportioned work of art is quite large for a bronze of this time period. A further highlight of the selling exhibition is an Udayana Buddha from the Qianlong period (1735-1796) of China. This gilt copper alloy statue celebrates an ancient tradition associated with the introduction of Buddhism to China. This style of gilt bronze has become known in China as Udayana after legends surrounding an historical Indian ruler and a sandalwood statue brought to China in antiquity.

An important painting of the Kalachakra mandala, an early 15th century work, depicts the mandala, or cosmos, of the Buddha Kalachakra, Wheel of Time. The predominant reds and blues of the painting together with the symmetry of design and geometric placement of the deities suggest a Nepalese artistic style in the central regions of Tibet. This painting is one of the earliest representations of Kalachakra in Tibetan art. Also included in the selling exhibition is a rare 15th century thangka depicting Tsongkhapa from Guge in West Tibet, rarely seen on the market.

A further highlight is The Parinirvana of Buddha, a painting from the 16th/17th century in Japan, which depicts parinirvana (the ultimate nirvana), which occurs with the death of the physical body of the enlightened Buddha. The commemoration of this occasion is one of the most important events in the Buddhist calendar, and paintings such as this appeared as the focus of these ceremonies during the Nara period (710 – 794). There are several examples of such paintings in temples and museums including an 11th century National Treasure housed in Kongobuji in Koyasan and a 12th century example in the Tokyo National Museum.

Ambivalent Resolution, by Gonkar Gyatso, one of the most significant contemporary artists from Tibet today, features a seated Buddha and is a superb example of the artist’s pioneering modernism, juxtaposing traditional Buddhist imagery and symbols of pop culture. The surface of the sculpture is covered in the artist’s trademark stickers and rhinestones – a mixture of American, European, Tibetan and Chinese decals featuring images of newspaper headlines, manga characters and superheroes, corporate logos and excerpts from Tibetan texts, all engulfed in cartoon flames. Gyatso’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Rubin Museum in New York, and the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon, India, and will be featured in an upcoming exhibition of Tibetan contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2014.

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