If not soon, but definitely this Summer, get yourself to the Getty Center to see the Cave Temples of Dunhuang, an engaging, enlightening exhibit displaying Buddhist art uncovered on China’s ancient Silk Road.
The singular exhibit is the focus of my weekly arts and entertainment commentary heard on 97.5 KBU , and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites. And in summary, it is a rave, prompted by the exhibit’s rare treasures imaginatively displayed.
Some background: There by some estimates were 1,000 temples carved into cliffs known as the Mogao Grottoes, on the western edge of the Gobi Desert, near the oasis town of Dunhuang, creating a treasure trove of archeological artifacts.
For nearly a thousand years, from the 4th to the 14th centuries, the town was a gateway on the landmark road linking medieval China, Europe and India, serving traversing merchants and monks. That is before trade routes took to the seas and land routes and the towns along them languished and some vanished..
Though a World Heritage Site, for the last 25 years under the care of the Getty Conservation Institute and a local Chinese academy, the town for all its rich history is not an accessible tourist attraction, and I venture to add few will ever visit.
That in part makes this exhibit fascinating, and all the more so by featuring three full scale replicas of select grotto temples decorated with paintings and sculptures, dating back to the fifth, sixth and eighth centuries.
They were exquisitely hand painted by local artist aided by international scholars, and lend touring them, in a temporary structure on the Getty arrival plaza, a singular museum experience. Be prepared to get a free timed ticket and nevertheless still wait on a line, but it is worth it. Jt’s just unfortunate the Getty does not provide seating for the handicapped and elderly.
But before entering the temples, you are directed to the Getty Research Institute galleries, where there are video presentations and a selection of objects detailing the history of the temples and the grotto. They are a must to appreciating the replicated caves.
This includes the a detailed Chinese scripted Diamond Sutra, indicating its printing in 868, making it the first such book ever so dated. Incredibly, it was one of 50.000 manuscripts and art pieces found stored in just one cave, appropriately labeled the Library Cave.