The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan
Carved into the mountains of northern China, the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan (pronounced “shahng-tahng-shahn”) were the crowning cultural achievement of the 6th-century Northern Qi dynasty (550-77 CE). Once home to a magnificent array of sculptures — monumental Buddhas, divine attendant figures, and crouching monsters framed by floral motifs — the limestone caves were severely damaged in the first half of the 20th century, when their contents were chiseled away and offered for sale on the international art market.
During the past six years the caves have become the focus of a research and reconstruction project based at the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago. Combining cutting-edge 3-D imaging technology with old-fashioned scholarly work, an international team of experts has photographed and scanned the dispersed objects as well as the interior of the caves themselves.
The San Diego Museum of Art’s presentation of Echoes of the Past includes 14 objects from Xiangtangshan and three related Northern Qi works of art. The exhibition juxtaposes dispersed sculptural fragments with a set of media projects including an immersive video installation, a documentary film directed by Judy Hoffman about the present-day environs of the cave sites, and interactive touchscreen labels related to the monumental stone fragments on view.