Buddhist art can be more than a Steven Seagal film, as shown in an exhibition currently showcased at the UCSB Art Museum.
The “Insights: Buddhist Perspectives in Contemporary Art” exhibition, which opened in November, features work by artists whose pieces have been influenced by Buddhist ideas. The exhibition is part of the “Awake: Art, Buddhism and the Dimensions of Consciousness” project, a national consortium of art institutions, artists, performers and scholars who have launched projects reflecting the chosen theme over the past two years. Niki Dewart, the exhibit’s curator, said these projects ranged from film series to performances to exhibitions such as “Insights.”
Dewart said that she wanted to choose pieces that approached the theme from both traditional and contemporary points of view.
“I was more interested in trying to surprise people,” she said. “They would walk in, expecting something that would be more traditionally Buddhist, and they would see these art objects that they may see in other contexts and have absolutely no idea that they were related to Buddhism.”
Dewart said many of the works were inspired by the rise of Buddhism as an alternative to materialism and war during the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. She said renowned artists such as John Baldessari, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, who are all featured in the “Insights” exhibition, became interested in Buddhism during this time.
The collection also includes the work of Dinh Q. Le, a UCSB graduate whose work will be featured extensively in “Homecoming: New Work by Dinh Q. Le,” an exhibition that will open at the museum in the spring, also as part of the “Awake” project.
Dewart said that a shared interest in Buddhism among many people at the museum and her own interest in exploring the relationship between art and different types of spirituality sparked the museum’s participation in the project.
“It’s kind of a unique project,” Dewart said. “Our museum likes to be a part of dialogues that happen across disciplines, and this was a good opportunity for that to happen.”
The exhibition will continue running until May 16 and can be seen Wednesday through Sunday, during regular museum hours from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.