Newark Museum goes ‘Beyond Zen’ with Buddhist art exhibition

Buddhist art

Scenes of Hell (detail), Edo Period (1615–1868), handscroll; ink and color on paper. Newark Museum Purchase 1915, 15.1106

NEWARK, N.J – From September 18 through January 5, 2020, the Newark Museum will present two new exhibitions that explore very different paths to fulfillment: living a life of simplicity and living a life in the public eye.

Beyond Zen: Japanese Buddhism Revealed, a visual feast of objects that showcase the works of Japanese Buddhist art, will spotlight more than 50 works – including paintings, sculptures and ritual implements – from the Museum’s permanent collection, many of which have not been displayed for over a century. Additionally, the Museum will present an exhibition of intimate portraits of notable people born in the Garden State.  What Exit? The New Jersey Spirit: Photographs by Timothy White will feature black & white portraits of famous film, music and television artists—including Newark natives Whitney Houston and Queen Latifah—by the award-winning photographer Timothy White.

Beyond Zen: Japanese Buddhism Revealed

Beyond Zen will be the latest exhibition mounted in the Museum’s Special Exhibition Gallery, and it will focus mainly on works of later Japanese Buddhist art from 1615 to the present day, but select rare treasures of the Heian (794-1185), Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1392-1573) period will be highlighted.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 552 when the King of Paekche from Korea sent a statue of the Buddha Shakyamuni along with other objects for worship. Many centuries later, Zen Buddhism was established in Japan under the patronage of the military elite.

“In addition to presenting the basic tenets of Mahayana Buddhism in Japan, the exhibition will show how the objects were and continue to be key elements in Buddhist practice,” said Midori Oka, guest curator.  “Since the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century, the faith benefited from the support of the aristocracy and rulers who patronized the building of temples and the production of lavish paintings and sculptures housed within.”

Mahayana Buddhists believe in a multitude of heavens, hells and descriptions of nirvana and have great reverence for Bodhisattvas — “Buddhist “saints” on the verge of nirvana who stopped before attaining it, so they could teach their method to others. Mahayana is rooted in the basic teachings of the historical Buddha, and emphasizes the individual search for liberation from the life-death-birth cycle.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is a rare set of four large hanging scrolls of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion (Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara), from the 19th century that depicts the deity in different manifest forms. Another key work is a handscroll, from the 19th century as well, that graphically depicts Buddhist hell and the punishments that await the condemned. The Museum is also home to an extensive collection of zushi or portable shrines, and the statue of Aizen Myōō, the Wisdom King of Passion (Sanskrit: Rāgarāja), housed in a zushi is an example of this outwardly fierce deity that possesses a calm inner mind. The earliest work in the exhibition is a sculpture of Zōchōten, Guardian of the South, from the Heian period (794–1192), carved largely from a single block of wood, the predominant material for Buddhist statues in Japan.

“The Arts of Asia have been a central focus of the Museum since its founding, and this exhibition sheds new light on an important aspect of this collection,” said the Museum’s Director and CEO Linda Harrison. “Our Japanese collection is incredibly diverse. It boasts about 10,000 objects of fine and decorative arts, featuring a wide range of materials from more than 2,000 years of history. Beyond Zen offers our visitors an opportunity to see objects that are rarely on view.”

The exhibition reflects the different facets of Buddhist practices through four thematic sections:

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas: In visual representations, Buddhas appear unadorned and in simple robes, a reflection of their detachment from worldly matters.

Death and Beyond: This section introduces works related to the death of the Buddha and the Buddhist afterworld.

Ritual, Space, and Faith: The objects presented in this section were enshrined in the image halls of Buddhist temples or used in rituals to evoke the presence of gods.

Masters and Disciples:  This section includes paintings related to the legends and deeds of charismatic Japanese monks and works by Zen masters.

Major support for Beyond Zen: Japanese Buddhism Revealed has been provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.  Additional support provided by the Japan Foundation; the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of New York, Inc.; and The Ryan Family Foundation.

What Exit? The New Jersey Spirit: Photographs by Timothy White

Portraits of homegrown artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to John Travolta to Eddie Murphy will be featured in the Museum’s latest photography exhibition, What Exit? The New Jersey Spirit: Photographs by Timothy White.

One of the most sought-after celebrity photographers, White is the photographer of choice for the highest echelon of Hollywood and international celebrities. A native of Fort Lee, he will be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame later this year.  What Exit? is Timothy’s second exhibition at the Museum; Timothy White: Image Maker (2003) featured portraits of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Lil’ Kim among others.

For more than 30 years, Timothy has captured the intimate and playful sides of legendary, actors, musicians and artists as well as the innocence of up and comers, demonstrating an uncanny ability to incorporate an entire narrative into a single image.  His images have appeared on popular movie posters, in countless publications and on dozens of album covers. Timothy’s numerous awards include “International Photographer of the Year” from the Lucie Foundation, and American Photo Magazine’s “One of the Most Important People in Photography.”

Click to learn more on the museum’s website.

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