After two years in limbo, the South Asian sculpture collection has returned to the Art Institute, bigger and better than ever with the addition of the huge Alsdorf collection that was on temporary display back in 1997. Remember that show? I had never seen so many genres and religious themes that had been completely unfamiliar to me, as the show pulled objects from the southern state of Tamil Nadu all the way up to Nepal and then stretched east to Cambodia and Vietnam. But does all of it belong on permanent display in an art museum ? And does this display of mostly sacred, meditative art belong in Gunsaulus Hall, the busy thoroughfare that used to show the museum’s collection of European medieval arms and armor? Would this collection of sacred objects be better served in a more quiet setting, and would it be better served by the kind of informative ethnographic/historic context the Field Museum is giving to artifacts from the Ancient Americas? And most importantly, would it be better served by better lighting, which is so important to making sculpture come to life? Hopefully, the lighting is a work in progress, and hopefully the entire gallery is a work in progress, like the museum’s East Asian galleries, where some areas, like the remote Ando Gallery, are attractive destinations because their displays are always changing. Hopefully some of these issues will be addressed by the new Galleries of Indian and Islamic Art that will open next year. (Chris Miller)
Now on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan.