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CMA’s ‘Revealing Krishna’ aims to educate with rare sister statues and high-tech items – News-Herald

Looks like it’s the start of a beautiful friendship.

In 2015, the Cleveland Museum of Art agreed to come back a stone sculpture of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, in the Kingdom of Cambodia after determining the piece he purchased in 1982 probably had been stolen during the country’s civil war.

“It took me two years to figure it out,” says Sonya Rhie Mace, curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art at CMA, “but after several trips to Cambodia and a lot of (research) here at US and Europe I was able to connect the dots and see that oh, yeah, it probably should be returned.

Officials at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh were very grateful, Mace said.

“They were so grateful to receive it without having to go through all the legal proceedings that we were able to forge a wonderful memorandum of understanding for a five-year cultural cooperation that we have in fact just renewed in 2020, so it is now in progress. course until 2025. “

This partnership gave rise to the paid exhibition of the AMC which has just opened “Revealing Krishna: Journey to the Sacred Mountain of Cambodia”, which has great cultural significance for Cambodia and is linked to a long-standing piece in the Cleveland institution’s collection. Organized by Mace, it will run until early 2022 in the exhibition hall of the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation.

Built around two similar statues, bearing the same title and restored in the same manner, of Krishna, a Hindu deity and the eighth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, the exhibit also includes a handful of other sculptures and several high-tech items. designed to tell the story of these coins and of old Cambodia in innovative ways.

Standing a few meters from each other in the show, the two central pieces – “Krishna lifting up Mount Govardhan (‘Cleveland Krishna’)” and “Krishna lifting up Mount Govardhan (‘Phnom Penh Krishna’)” – were made of sandstone from around 600 years ago by the same group of artists and located close to each other on a mountain.

“Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan (“ Phnom Penh Krishna ”)”, exhibited in “Revealing Krishna: Journey to the Sacred Mountain of Cambodia” is on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia. It is on display in “Revealing Krishna: Journey to the Sacred Mountain of Cambodia” at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which has been in the possession of its sister piece since 1973. (Konstanty Kulik)

“This means the proportions are very similar,” Mace said in a recent telephone interview. “Stylistically, they’re very similar. This is why it was easy to mix their fragmentary pieces.

More on that in a bit.

Both statues began their long and extremely complex journeys to their recent related restorations and temporary home in this exhibit when vandals likely pushed them centuries ago. Hindus were no longer there to protect the statues, which allegedly contained gems and gold in their pedestals, Mace says.

On loan from the National Museum of Cambodia, this sandstone pedestal is on display in “Revealing Krishna: Journey to the Sacred Mountain of Cambodia” from the Cleveland Museum of Art. (Konstanty Kulik)

The statue that remained in Cambodia was used as the basis for a Buddha statue by Thai Buddhists who came to the area. They cut limbs and made other modifications to make it a straighter figure; covered it with lacquer and gold; and added new crossed legs to make a lotus position, says Mace.

In the years to come, some archaeologists will fail to know what the statue really was, and it wasn’t until after it arrived in Phnom Penh that NMC staff carried out a restoration and put it on display.

After its discovery at the site of the mountain, the other statue was finally sent by Cambodia to France for protection. It ended up in a private collection in Brussels before being acquired by CMA in 1973.

During the restorations of each statue, the pieces discovered and supposed to belong to one or the other were glued as cleanly as possible.

Eventually, experts, including Mace, began to suspect that the fragments attached to one actually belonged to the other. For example, during a visit to NMC, she saw the back of “Phnom Penh Krishna”, she suspected that it should include a coin at the time attached to “Cleveland Krishna”. Photos of the back of the latter statue had never been published in journals, she said, so Cambodian experts would not have known about her.

“I sent a bunch of photos, and they saw this piece of stone on the back that seemed to match that piece of stone on this other piece perfectly,” she says.

It continued like this, with the 3D scanning and modeling leading to removing one limb and putting on another during what has been an interesting couple of years for Mace.

“It was full of surprises,” she laughs. “That’s for sure.”

(Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art)

And that led to ‘Revealing Krishna’, which was slated for 2020 but was postponed for a year due to complications resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic. Of course, the exhibit involved shipping antiques from Asia, so there was no guarantee that anything on the exhibit’s checklist would arrive in Cleveland.

“It was a risk, but I’m glad we took it,” Mace says. “There were a few hiccups due to the travel restrictions and the terrifying and anxious moments when I thought some of the loans weren’t going to come in, but here they are.”

The show does not begin with one of the borrowed rooms but with 22-foot-long projections that “form an immersive corridor overlooking the canals leading to Phnom Da in a cinematic and audio landscape”. The footage was shot in Cambodia with a three-camera platform and a drone according to materials provided by CMA. At the site of the mountain, the statues of Krishna were built to suggest that he supports the mountain to protect people from flooding.

“This is why we thought it was important to show the landscape projection to see how critical water management and constant flooding are part of daily life in southern Cambodia,” says Mace. . “We (believe) that is why this form of Krishna was so relevant to the people there.”

Visitors will soon discover a sculpture gallery housing five works from the ancient metropolis of Angkor Borei and neighboring sites that depict both Hindu and Buddhist images made by Cambodian sculptors, a press release said.

From there you can move on to something extremely modern: “The Story of the Cleveland Krishna” HoloLens Experience. Using Microsoft’s second-generation HoloLens augmented reality headsets – which are sanitized between uses by museum staff – guests ages 12 and older can literally walk through the complex history of the Cleveland Statue in a narrator. of presentation inhabitant of Krishna.

Sonya Rhie Mace, curator of ‘Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain’, left, and Mark Griswold, faculty director at Interactive Commons, view a trial model of the fragments of the Krishna statue at the Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 help. Visitors to the exhibition have the opportunity to enjoy the HoloLens “The Story of Cleveland Krishna” experience. (Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art)

“I think it’s so much fun, and I’ve done it now, I have to say, probably hundreds of times because we’ve been developing it for so long and testing and testing it,” Mace says. “I still can’t get enough of it.

“I want this trip to be fun for people.”

Another high-tech area is “Gods of Phnom Da,” in which the eight gods are brought together digitally via motion-activated projections, which present relevant facts.

The “Gods of Phnom Da” digital gallery features life-size 3D models of the eight gods of Phnom Da, with motion-activated animations exploring detail and iconographic elements. (Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art)

“Revealing Krishna” ends with a related film installation narrated by actress-director and humanitarian Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung, author of “First They Killed My Father”. Its eight screens form an L in the last gallery of the show.

Angelina Jolie visits “Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan” in the Cleveland Museum of Art Conservation Lab with CMA Director William M. Griswold and Sonya Rhie Mace, Curator of Indian and South Asian Art -Is, in 2019. (Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art)

“Visitors see archival footage of excavations, from the 1800s to 2021, as well as current images and animated maps depicting the narrative arc of these ancient sculptures,” the press release said. “The film concludes by examining the ambitious conservation initiatives that have taken place over the past decade, which have involved intensive collaboration and exchange with colleagues in Cambodia, and highlighting the evolving role of AMC in stewardship in the global landscape. “

Hundreds of people from various entities ranging from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland contributed to the realization of this CMA.

Although “Revealing Krishna” will not be traveling to Cambodia – unlike the CMA, the NMC does not have special exhibition space – she looks forward to discussions on how to share certain aspects of it with the country.

“For example, the HoloLenses could be sent over there or (the augmented reality presentation) could be converted into an iPhone program that could be used in the galleries there,” she says. “We have a lot of ideas.

In the end, she says, being able to bring these two statues together and make a story out of them was such a rare opportunity that the CMA had a responsibility to devote significant resources to it all – an opportunity that she hopes many will find interesting. to explore.

“It’s an incredibly special experience,” she says. “This will not happen again anywhere else. “

“Revealing Krishna: Journey to the Sacred Mountain of Cambodia”

Or: Cleveland Art Museum, 11150 East Blvd.

When: Until January 30.

Tickets: $ 15, adults; $ 12, seniors, students with ID and children 12 to 17; $ 8, guest members; free, children 11 and under and CMA members.

Associated event: “Visions and Reviews: Behind the Scenes of Krishna’s Revelation” – find out how curators, curators, engineers, physicists, materials scientists and leaders in digital imaging and technology have worked together to understand and convey the form, history and context of the museum’s monumental sandstone sculpture “Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan”. 2 p.m. on December 12 in the Gartner Auditorium of the museum. Free with reserved ticket.

Info: 216-421-7350 or

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