Collector Donates ‘Shrine Room’ to Museum

Religious statues, paintings represent the richness of Tibetan Buddhism.

Wide view of the Tibetan shrine.
Courtesy of the Freer and Sackler Galleries.

A major collector of Tibetan Buddhist art has given her collection to the Smithsonian Institution’s Sackler Gallery of Asian Art, on condition that the objects be kept together and remain on display, according to the donor and museum officials.

The collection comprises more than 200 religious sculptures, paintings, cabinets, and ritual objects, and was briefly on loan to the Sackler last year, where it was presented as a fully assembled Tibetan shrine.

Speaking in an interview, opera performer and retired psychologist Alice Kandell said that she had collected the pieces over a 30-year period, and that they “needed to be shared.”

“I realized that these things didn’t belong to me. They belonged to the world,” she said.

Kandell added that she requested that her collection again be installed in a room of its own as a shrine, instead of being kept separately in display cases with labels underneath, and that museum officials readily agreed.

“It was obvious to them, and to me, that it had to be as a whole, the way it would have been in Tibet.”


Close up view of one shrine object. Photo courtesy of John Bigelow Taylor Photography.

Visitors to last year’s exhibition at the Sackler of the Tibetan shrine were left “ecstatic and moved,” museum curator Debra Diamond said.

Diamond said many viewers left written remarks calling the exhibit amazing, with one saying  “’I feel transported to another space.’”

“We know of some people who came once a week. We had one staff member who came once a day to meditate,” Diamond said.

The shrine is now on loan to New York City’s Rubin Museum of Tibetan Art, and may travel after that, returning to Washington in 2014 or 2015, Diamond said.

Once the exhibit is installed, Diamond said, “we really want visitors to be able to appreciate, or think about, the difference between the artist’s original intentions were and what the works look like in their cultural context, with how things look in a museum setting.”

As a long-term exhibit, the Tibetan shrine will also serve as a focus for scholarly programs and lectures, Diamond said.

“This will enable us to create a vital part of the institution that’s devoted to disseminating knowledge about Tibetan Buddhist art and culture.”

Describing the objects in her collection, Alice Kandell said that they represent a spirituality belonging not just to Tibet, but to the world.

Visiting the shrine is a “beautiful and aesthetic experience,” she said.

“But really, it’s much more profound than that, and I think that most people do feel that.”

Reported by Richard Finney.


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Aug 05, 2011 03:29 AM

Thank you Alice Kendall for sharing your collection with the world.

BTW, It would be interesting to learn where you acquired the artifacts from.

Aug 03, 2011 04:02 AM

This is a wonderful way to see and experience a part of Tibetan Buddhism by seeing the statues in a shrine.
Tibetan Buddhism and its devotion to Shakyamuni, as well as a glimpse at the superb craftsmanship of these beautiful statues and thanks. Do not miss an opportunity to witness the spirit and beauty of a shrine.