History and Art History
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Professor Rob DeCaroli Curates Smithsonian Exhibit

The tibetan shrine room

A New Exhibit of Buddhist Art Robert DeCaroli, Professor of Art History at Mason, is serving as one of three curators of a major new display of Buddhist art (“Encountering the Buddha”) that recently opened at the Smithsonian’s remodeled Sackler Gallery. The exhibit runs from Oct. 14 to Nov. 29, 2020. Among the unusual features of the display is the opportunity the curators will have to revise the exhibit in midstream, in response to
comments by viewers and professionals and the possible addition of further objects.
The exhibit builds on the rich holdings of the Gallery itself, with many varied and distinctive pieces. As Rob DeCaroli indicates, the curators accepted a particular challenge to select and display the items in a way that would engage viewers particularly by encouraging them to see what they meant in religious
practice – what the intention was behind their creation and how they were used. This goal is furthered by three “immersive” experiences: a video of worship in a Sri Lankan site; a reconstructed Tibetan shrine room; and representations of an extraordinary pilgrimage by a 19-year-old Korean monk in the 9th century, to Persia and back.
The presentation is guided, finally, by a desire to show the range and variety of Buddhism, in art and practice alike, conveying complexity but without distracting jargon. As DeCaroli puts it, the hope is that viewers will gain added appreciation of Buddhist views that are “not committed to the attainment of immediate worldly objectives”, an opportunity that may be particularly meaningful in contemporary Washington.

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