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: Hindu Sculpture


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The sensation of strangeness, almost of repulsion, which invades the western spectator upon his first meeting with Indian sculpture is a natural reaction in view of the wide divergence of thought and taste existing between the West and the East. Conditioned to the old traditions of classical sculpture, the westerner finds it difficult to understand or to appreciate the sculpture of the East, especially that inspired by the Hindu religion. To do so, preconceived ideas of sculpture must be discarded and replaced by a conception of art in which the human form possesses no particular significance. Hindu sculpture is first and foremost a vehicle for expressing spiritual ideas, and the forms which convey these ideas to the spectator are frequently non-human. They can, like the beautiful figure of a Siva as Nataraja, the Divine Dancer, now on view as a loan from C. T. Loo, be many-armed; they can be zoömorphic; they can be grotesque and terrible, or they can be graceful and seductive beyond anything produced in the West. The Indian sculptor is not concerned with the physical aspect of his gods, but with their spiritual meaning. It is important to remember this fact in meeting Indian sculpture.The strange figures of Indian deities in the current exhibition of Hindu bronzes offer visitors an unusual opportunity to absorb both the art and the thought of the vast continent of India. They reveal not only a mastery of casting in bronze and of handling plastic problems, but, above all, a conception of subject matter, determined by the religion they serve, which opens up a limitless field for enjoyment. Through them the fascination and mystery of the Hindu ideal is partially disclosed. Troubled, at first, by their meaning, the spectator may orient himself by limiting his preliminary observation to their physical aspects: the material of which they are made, the method of their making, and their color. Bronze casting is an ancient tradition in India, having been practiced from about 2000 B.C. The method used throughout has been the cire-perdue, or lost wax, process which assures that quality of uniqueness impossible to obtain with the mold process. In creating their bronze figures, the Indians used an alloy of almost pure copper. This resulted, after years of burial, in the varying and lovely green patina which contributed so notably to the beauty of the bronzes.From recognition of this beauty it is only a step to an awareness of the mastery of the artist in shaping his figures. One is perhaps first conscious of the exquisite balance of the gods and goddesses making up the Hindu pantheon. Their poise is monumental, and the assurance with which the beautifully rounded limbs and the flowing lines of the bodies are handled is a delight to the eye. When the deity is depicted in a terrible form, such as that assumed by Kali in her role of destroyer in the magnificent figure lent by the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery, the immediate effect is terrible and shocking. Nevertheless, proportion and balance are so perfectly preserved that one looks upon her with equanimity and finally with understanding. This same goddess is seen in her benign aspect as Parvati in the group with her consort Siva, lent by James D. Baldwin, of Kansas City.The duality, and often plurality, of Hindu deities is one of the most confusing aspects of this absorbing religion. And it is partly through the attempt to sort them out that the true value and beauty of Indian sculpture will come as last to the spectator. Vishnu, in no matter what guise he is represented, will become familiar and comprehensible. A meeting with him; with Krishna, one of his several avatars; with his consort Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and beauty; with Siva, the preserver and the destroyer; or with Rama, the hero of the great Indian epic, The Ramayana, will repay the spectator a thousand fold. Through these alien gods one will be impelled to further his acquaintance with the art and the pulsing, fertile civilization of India. Prospective visitors to the exhibition are urged not to delay this experience. The Hindu bronzes will be on view through March 2.
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Source: "Hindu Sculpture," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 41, no. 8 (February, 1952): 37-38.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009