Imagine walking into a Buddhist temple and being greeted by a mythical bird-shaped incense burner, a cotton scroll with Nepali stupas, and illuminated palm-leaf manuscripts. Then, as you move deeper into the sacred space, you encounter stone and bronze sculptures of compassionate beings, and finally, in the innermost chamber, you behold the radiant presence of gilt bronze buddhas.
This is the journey that awaits visitors at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where a new exhibition showcases 44 artworks of protective deities from South and Southeast Asia. The exhibition, titled “Benevolent Beings: Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from South and Southeast Asia,” opens on Oct. 13 and runs through Feb. 19, 2024.
The artworks, drawn solely from the museum’s extensive collections, span from the 13th to the 18th century and reflect the artistic diversity and exchange that influenced the production of these works. Many of them are being exhibited for the first time.
The exhibition explores how representations of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and merciful gods have been seen to offer blessings, guidance, and security to their devotees. It also examines the original context and evidence of use of these works, which range from utilitarian and instructive votive objects to highly ornate gilt bronze buddhas.
The Norton Simon Museum organized the exhibition in accordance with the general layout of a Buddhist temple from 13th- to 18th-century South Asia, where the innermost chambers were devoted to the most sacred works. The exhibition aims to recreate the experience of approaching a Buddhist temple, starting with a collection of votive objects and ending with a display of gilt bronze buddhas.
The exhibition also reveals how these works facilitated merit-making, a core practice that is common to all Buddhist traditions. Merit-making is the act of performing good deeds or making offerings that generate positive karma and lead to favorable rebirths.
“Benevolent Beings: Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from South and Southeast Asia” is curated by Melody Rod-ari, associate curator of South and Southeast Asian art at the Norton Simon Museum.
The museum will offer a series of special programs, including lectures, a performance, an opening weekend celebration, a meditative audio tour, guided tours, talks, and family programs in connection with the exhibit.
The Norton Simon Museum is located at 411 W. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena. For more information, visit https://www.nortonsimon.org/