While we were reinstalling our South Asian Sculpture Gallery late last year, objects from our permanent collection traveled internationally for the first ever exhibition of ancient Indian art in Mexico. The special exhibition, Ancient Art of India: Masterworks of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, was presented at the Museo Nacional de las Culturas in Mexico City. In March, an expanded and renamed version of the exhibition continues its journey, heading even farther south to the Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda in Santiago, Chile, where it will once again break new ground by being the first major international exhibition of premodern Indian art in Chile.
Featuring 150 objects from LACMA’s permanent collection, India’s Universe: Masterworks of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art explores the elaborate cosmologies of ancient India’s three man indigenous religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Ancient India’s religious mythology and associated artistic imagery were among the most highly developed of all world cultures. Each of these religions constructed systems of the universe with multiple realms, which were populated by a diverse range of real and imaginary inhabitants. Divinities, demigods, demons, mortals, and animals all interacted in a grand theater of life, the afterlife, and the endless cycle of time and rebirth. Numerous traumatic conflicts and heroic exploits were imagined in prose and poem and portrayed in a sophisticated tradition of sculpture, painting, and the decorative arts.
The exhibition is organized into five thematic sections that explore the myriad inhabitants of India’s perceived universe:
- deities—Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain gods and goddesses;
- demigods—protective nature and fertility spirits associated with the earth and various celestial nymphs, musicians, and supernatural beings;
- demons—revered leaders and guardian figures with demonic powers and generic hordes of demonic warriors;
- humans—archetypical rulers who uphold virtue and preserve order by triumphing over evil, religious ascetics who conquer the temptations of the spirit and gain magical powers, and individuals typifying the plethora of life’s activities and occupations;
- animals—the full spectrum of the animal kingdom, from powerful elephants to noble lions and cunning tigers to mischievous monkeys.
LACMA is proud to help promote greater understanding and appreciation of Indian culture in Chile by sharing these extraordinary works of art from its renowned holdings.
Stephen Markel, the Harry and Yvonne Lenart Curator and Department Head, South and Southeast Asian Art