Critical Mass., Part 3: Buddha in the Berkshires


Installation view from The Immortal Present at the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Mass.

Cricital Mass. is the series I've posted in recent summers when I spend most of my time in Massachusetts. In this installment we visit the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.

The Berkshire Museum is a small institution dedicated to art, science and history. Often overshadowed by the strictly arts-focused larger institutions in the area like the Clark Museum in Williamstown and Mass MoCa in North Adams, it has nevertheless attracted a following: artists, families, school groups, and the inevitable summer tourists. I was fortunate to be given a guided tour last week by my new friends, Van Shields, director of the museum, and the painter Peggy Rivers.

Entering the museum

There's a lot to see there, but I'm focusing on one show, the Immortal Present: Art and East Asia, and more specifically on a beautiful room of Buddhas. As you might expect of a room filled with objects of veneration, there was a welcome sense of centered calm. The exhibition, curated by Maria Mingalone, explores a range of images and objects. It's up through September 7.

In the great Hall, with video projections by Saya Woolfalk, A Fictional Species of Empathics, we see in the distance the installation by Long Bin-Chen that opens Immortal Present

Long-Bin Chen: Buddha and Wheel, phone books, 2008

Details above and below:  You can see how the figure is carved from Manhattan telephone books. I love that within its head it contains millions of names

Gonkar Gyatso,  Buddha, 2015, mixed media collage
This traditional seated Buddha is one with everything, including the images and snippets of contemporary culture

Detail below

This figure is shown facing the Buddha collage: Praying Monk, gilded wood, Burma, 19th Century

In a vitrine past the figure's left shoulder, we see the exquisite sculpture below:
Daoist Immortal Head, Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, china, wood, lacquer

Standing Buddha, Japan, 19th Century, gilt wood

My favorite buddhas, more correctly known as bodhisattvas or avalokiteshvaras, are those of Guanyin. Boddisattvas delay their own attainment of nirvana in order to help alleviate human suffering. Guanyin is most often embodied as female, but sometimes as male--an interesting way to embrace duality

Guanyin, Japan, 19th century, collection of the Berkshire Museum
Carved from ivory, she is depicted as standing on a lotus blossom with dragons at her feet.


nola Zirin said...

Thank you Joanne for posting this wonderfully invented and important exhibit, it is a joy to view.

Carol Diehl said...

So glad you got to the Berkshire Museum, a little-known treasure. And Maria, the curator, is my near neighbor and a kundalini yoga teacher. Couldn't you tell? I've been away, can't wait to see the exhibition!