Mighty, Quiet, and Tall: Dunhuang's Colors

Mighty, Quiet, and Tall: Dunhuang's Colors

November 26, 2012

Chinese cultural artifacts have been getting around lately. First Istanbul Modern opened a contemporary Chinese artist exhibition. Then there was a whisper about five of the famous terracota soldier statues from the Forbidden City being exhibited at Topkapı Palace, an exhibition which runs from November 21st to February 23rd. Then there was word of a colorful exhibition of Buddhist caves at Mimar Sinan University’s Tophane-i Amire (Tophane Armory) and we knew this year was going to be one of Far Eastern Art. “Dunhuang’s Colors,” as has last been mentioned however, is one of the more quietly magnificent of the three as far as we can tell, steeped in history and religious reflection.


The replicated statues, roofs, and temple caves displayed in the exhibition are part of a larger World Heritage Site which is the best preserved and largest Buddhist art site in the world. “Dunhuang Caves” is a general name given to the caves in the Dunhuang region which are Buddhist sites. This grouping includes the Mogao Grottoes and Western Thousand Buddha Grottoes in Dunhuang, the Yulin Grottoes and Eastern Thousand Buddha Grottoes in Anxi, and the Five Temple Grottoes in Subei Country.


The exhbition explores and explains the formation of the caves and statues, as well as the foundation of the site through the Silk Road as detailed descriptions in Chinese, Turkish, and English explain the techniques and works alongside replicas, models, and maps. While the two temples set up in the center of the armory are certainly two of the more incredible pieces experienced in the exhibition, the monumental sleeping Buddha at the very back of the exhibition is undoubtably the most impressive and most representative of attained peace.


The Tophane-i Amire is at times an overwhelming space for venue with its high walls and multiple domes. Fortunately, the size of the items exhibited in “Dunhuang’s Colors” and the accompanying posters embrace the arena in a way that no space feels wasted. The only criticism to be had of this otherwise carefully constructed exhibition is that at times the organizational flow of the boards and the exhibition path is more a muddied stream than a well-charted river. Overall, however, the achievements of this magnificent show outweigh any shortcoming, which is why we intend to come back again to have a second look at the fantastic pieces.