Collecting Paradise: Buddhist Art of Kashmir and Its Legacies

Main Gallery

Collecting Paradise: Buddhist Art of Kashmir and Its Legacies presents an original and innovative look at art from the region of Kashmir, as well as how it has been “collected” over time. 

Bringing together 44 works of art from major collections, this exhibition examines how Buddhist art from Kashmir has traveled across centuries and borders—first to the Western Himalayas and later to the US and Europe—raising questions about cultural exchange and the varying motivations behind historical collecting practices. 

Read the Chicago Sun-Times review of this "most ambitious exhibition in the museum’s history."

See other media coverage for Collecting Paradise on the News page.

The exhibition was curated by associate professor in the department of art history at Northwestern University Rob Linrothe with the support of Christian Luczanits, David L. Snellgrove Senior Lecturer in Tibetan and Buddhist Art at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London). Featuring religious objects, including manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures in ivory, metal, and wood, dating from the 7th to 17th centuries, it explores how Kashmiri art was acquired, adapted and collected by Western Himalayans, and how those same artworks arrived in US and European museums in the 20th century.

Learn more by watching the presentation from Opening Day:

Winter 2015 Opening Celebration from Block Museum on Vimeo.

The fertile Kashmir valley, to the west of the Himalaya Mountains in present-day India, has long been described as a “paradise on earth.” Between the 7th and the 13th centuries, a series of dynasties dominated the valley. Kashmir’s neighbors in the Western Himalayas were drawn to its highly developed Buddhist religion and its sophisticated arts. Religious objects, including manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures in ivory, metal, and wood, were among the treasures admired and collected by Western Himalayans who traveled to Kashmir. These portable objects moved to new locations where they maintained their religious significance and inspired local artists. Collecting Paradise examines the impact of Kashmiri art on Western Himalayan Buddhist culture.

In the 19th century, India came under British domination and Western travel to the Kashmir region increased. Europeans and Americans were likewise drawn to the Buddhist arts of Kashmir and the Himalayas; however, their appreciation was based on aesthetics, not religious belief. When they collected Buddhist artworks, the works were displaced from monasteries and shrines to museums and private collections in Europe and the United States.

This exhibition considers the relationship between these two contrasting approaches to collecting. Both are rooted in particular attitudes and behaviors. By looking closely at the different ways that Buddhists and non-Buddhists have acquired art from Kashmir and the Western Himalayas, the exhibition raises questions about what is lost and what is gained in collecting across cultures.

A companion exhibition, Collecting Culture: Himalaya through the Lens, looks critically at US and European engagement in the Himalayas beginning in the mid-19th century to further examine the impact of centuries of collecting in the region. 

Lenders to Collecting Paradise and Collecting Culture are The Art Institute of Chicago, the Asia Society (New York City), the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Rubin Museum of Art (New York City), the Saint Louis Art Museum, the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and several private collections.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated, color catalogue sharing new research and perspectives that have developed during the formation of the exhibition. After its premiere at the Block, Collecting Paradise will travel to the Rubin Museum of Art, the foremost museum of Himalayan art in the US.

Collecting Paradise and Collecting Culture were organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University; and the Rubin Museum of Art, New York. Additional funding and support provided by: National Endowment for the Arts; Myers Foundations; Alumnae of Northwestern; Elizabeth F Cheney Foundation; Illinois Arts Council Agency; Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly; Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, Northwestern University; and Department of Art History, Northwestern University. Support has also been provided by The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment; Kessel Fund at the Block Museum; Norton S. Walbridge Fund;  Alsdorf Gallery at the Block Museum Quasi-Endowment; and the Louise E. Drangsholt Fund.

Image credit: Crowned Buddha Shakyamuni, Kashmir or northern Pakistan; 8th century. Brass with inlays of copper, silver, and zinc, Asia Society, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection of Asian Art, 1979.044

Opening Celebration
Saturday, January 17, 2-5pm
Northwestern art history faculty member and curator of the exhibition Rob Linrothe will provide an overview of Collecting Paradise: Buddhist Art of Kashmir and Its Legacies. Linrothe will address two sets of themes underpinning the exhibition—first, travel, trade, and artistic exchange across the Himalayas between the 7th and 17th century; and second, how and why works like those in the exhibition have been collected by Himalayan Buddhists and by Westerners, and the consequences of their respective approaches. His presentation will be followed by a conversation between him and Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, the George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art at The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Curator’s Gallery Talk
Wednesday, January 28, 6pm
Join Northwestern art history faculty member and exhibition curator Rob Linrothe for a guided view of Collecting Paradise. He will be introducing the exhibition's five main sections and directing visitors' attention to relationships in the themes and styles of works from Kashmir and the Western Himalayas. For those who are interested, this will be followed by a tour of Collecting Culture: Himalaya through the Lens, a companion exhibition in the Alsdorf Gallery, in which some of the primary western collectors are featured.

The History of a Border-Crossing Lineage in Central and South Asia: The Radhu Family
Wednesday, February 4, 6pm
Dr. Siddiq Wahid, a historian of Central Asian and Tibetan political history and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, will trace the history of the Western Himalayas through the eyes of his family’s experience. The Radhu family, to which Wahid belongs, is arguably a microcosm of the experience of frontier peoples in the transition from a ‘traditional’ world to the ‘modern’ one. The case will illustrate what happens to frontier populations that are wrapped around ‘lines’ drawn in faraway capitals and called ‘borders.’

Music in the Galleries
Thursdays in February, 4-5pm
Organized by the Block Museum’s Student Advisory Board, informal performances by Northwestern student musicians and musical ensembles, inspired by both Eastern and Western musical traditions, will permeate the museum’s galleries.

Early Art of Kashmir
Tuesday February 10, 6pm
Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose, Alsdorf Associate Curator of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, will discuss the art of Kashmir prior to the period covered by Collecting Paradise as a way of contextualizing the exhibition. She will speak about the impact of Gandharan art on the origins of an indigenous Kashmiri style of art from the 5th century to the period where Collecting Paradise picks up the narrative.

Kashmir and the Development of Tibetan Buddhism
Wednesday, February 18, 6pm
Director of Tibetan Studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris and Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, Matthew T. Kapstein will address aspects of the history of Buddhist philosophy and literature in Kashmir and their legacy in Tibet, providing historical and cultural context to the objects on display in the exhibition.

Photography and the State of Kashmir
Wednesday, April 1, 6pm
Chicago-based photographer Larry Snider has travelled to regions across Asia including Ladakh, part of the Indian province of Jammu and Kashmir, immersing himself in the landscape and culture and photographing the community. In conversation with Collecting Paradise curator Rob Linrothe, Snider will share his work and observations of the region, with Linrothe reflecting on the ways in which Ladakh’s environment and religious heritage connects to the present.

Collecting Kashmir: The Expeditions of Walter N. Koelz
Wednesday, April 8, 6pm
The collection of Walter N. Koelz, an American zoologist who sponsored collecting expeditions in the Western Himalayas during the 1930s, has contributed significantly to our understanding of Himalayan art. In a gallery talk focused on Collecting Culture, which includes many objects from Koelz’ collection, Carla Sinopoli, University of Michigan anthropology faculty member and curator of Asian archaeology at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, will address Koelz’ collecting practices.

BLOCK CINEMA: Framing the Himalayas: Kashmir and Tibet on Screen

  • The Epic of Everest Friday, January 23, 7pm, $6/$4
  • Lost Horizon Friday, January 30, 7pm, $6/$4
  • Black Narcissus Friday, February 6, 7pm, $6/$4
  • Haider February 13, 7pm, $6/$4
  • Valley of Saints February 19, 7pm, $6/$4