Story, photos by Lou Perri
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is reopening the South Asian galleries after a major two year renovation and reinstallation period of its masterpieces. The Temple Hall, the centerpiece of the collection, has been completely reinterpreted. Donated in 1919 by the family of Adeline Pepper Gibson of Philadelphia, the Temple Hall has been a puzzle to scholars until now. Curators have solved the mystery and will share the details with members of Gibson’s family present.
The new installation presents one of the most important collections of South Asian art in a new light. Ten galleries are redesigned and reconfigured to present masterpieces spanning 2,000 years of art from the regions of Persia, India and Pakistan to Nepal and Tibet. Works range from Buddhist and Hindu sculptures to colorful fabrics and courtly Indian miniature paintings. The galleries also incorporate new video, sound, interactive kiosks, and a commissioned work of contemporary art by Pakistani-born artist, Shahzia Sikander.
Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer, told Explore Philly, “This, the first major reinstallation of our South Asian art in several decades, demonstrates that a collection like ours is, in effect, a renewable resource that, when presented in new ways, can always yield new meanings. The completion of this project enables us to illuminate the breadth and beauty of one of this country’s great collections of South Asian art for audiences in the 21st century.”
The newly installed galleries feature significant improvements, such as state-of-the-art lighting, flooring, and casework that enhance the presentation of storied objects. In addition to these physical improvements, the collection of South Asian art is presented in new and accessible ways in the galleries and online. Each gallery is both self-contained and part of a larger theme, offering visitors a variety of ever-changing and interlinked experiences that illuminate key aspects of South Asian culture. Some explore broad, universal themes of South Asian art, while others focus on a single concept or create an immersive environment. A set of three interactive digital kiosks called ‘living labels’ connect historical objects with the world of today, showing festivals, worship, and the performing arts, as well as glimpses of behind-the-scenes curatorial work.