The Lost Symphony: Whistler and the Perfection of ArtThree Girls would have been a seminal work in the stylistic development of American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)—if he had completed it. He intended to hang the large painting opposite his Princess from the Land of Porcelain in the dining room of his patron Frederick Leyland, but after they quarreled over the cost of the Peacock Room, Whistler destroyed the work. As part of Peacock Room REMIX, this exhibition reconstructs how Whistler’s unrealized quest for "the perfection of art" intersected with less-rarified concerns about patronage, payment, and professional reputation.
Body of Devotion: The Cosmic Buddha in 3DLike all Buddhas (fully enlightened beings), the Cosmic Buddha, a life-size limestone figure of Vairochana, is wrapped in the simple robe of a monk. What makes this sixth-century Chinese object exceptional are the detailed narrative scenes that cover its surface, representing moments in the life of the Historical Buddha as well as the Realms of Existence, a symbolic map of the Buddhist world. With help from the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, the Cosmic Buddha also exists as a 3D model, enabling scholars to study the work as never before and providing worldwide access to this masterpiece of Buddhist sculpture. Body of Devotion is an interactive installation that explores not only the work itself, but also the evolving means and methods of studying sculpture, from rubbings and photographs to the technological possibilities of today.
Heart of an Empire: Herzfeld's Discovery of PasargadaeLocated in the dasht-i murghab, or “plain of the water bird,” in southwestern Iran, Pasargadae was the first capital of the ancient Achaemenid Persian Empire (circa 540 BCE) and the last resting place of Cyrus the Great. Impressed with its ruins, German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948) briefly surveyed the site for the first time in 1905. Having completed his PhD thesis on Pasargadae in 1907, he returned in 1923 and 1928 to conduct more extensive excavations. The result was the first map of the site and the identification of its major extant structures. Featuring selections from the Freer|Sackler Archives’ rich holdings of Herzfeld’s drawings, notes, and photographs—among the world’s largest collections of archival materials on Pasargadae—this exhibition illuminates one of the most important sites of the ancient world.
Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming AfghanistanDecades of civil unrest nearly destroyed Afghanistan’s vital artistic heritage. Over the past decade, Turquoise Mountain, an organization founded in 2006 at the request of HRH the Prince of Wales and the president of Afghanistan, has transformed the Murad Khani district of Old Kabul from slum conditions into a vibrant cultural and economic center. Dedicated to teaching a new generation of Afghan artisans in woodwork, calligraphy, ceramics, jewelry design, and other crafts, Turquoise Mountain is reviving the nation’s cultural legacy. This exhibition transforms the International Gallery into a visit to Old Kabul. Artisans from Murad Khani demonstrate their work and share their experiences, allowing visitors to appreciate Afghanistan’s rich culture and national pride.
Symbolic Cities: The Photography of Ahmed MaterBorn in 1970 in southern Saudi Arabia and trained as a medical doctor, Ahmed Mater has been a practicing artist since the early 1990s, creating works that offer an unparalleled perspective on contemporary Saudi Arabia. Now based in Jeddah, Mater has focused primarily on photography and video since 2010. From abandoned desert cities to the extraordinary transformation of Mecca, Symbolic Cities presents his visual and aural journeys observing economic and urban change in Saudi Arabia. The exhibition, the first in the United States solely dedicated to Mater, also debuts new works based on his extensive research on Riyadh’s development.
Painting with Words: Gentleman Artists of the Ming DynastyPoetry, painting, and calligraphy: Known as the "Three Perfections," these genres were regarded as the ultimate expressions of Chinese literati culture during the Ming dynasty (1369–1644). Members of the Wu School, centered on the affluent city of Suzhou and nearby towns, earned admiration for their interpretations of these creative expressions. Painting with Words celebrates Wu School works, examining the relationship between their imagery, brushstrokes, and, especially, words. Selections are drawn from the Freer|Sackler—home to one of the best Wu School collections in the country—as well as other museums and collections.
Current ExhibitionsSōtatsu: Making Waves
Through January 31
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Past exhibitionsLearn about past exhibitions from 2002 to the present.
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