science, art, and technology > self guides > STONE SCULPTURE FROM THE SOUTHEAST ASIAN COLLECTION AT THE AIC

Stone Sculpture from the Southeast Asian Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago

In this self-guided tour, you will investigate Southeast Asian sculpture in The Art Institute of Chicago. Most of the sculptures in the Art Institute’s collection are from India and those areas of Southeast Asia whose cultures were greatly influenced by Indian philosophy and religion. On this tour, pay special attention to the types of stone from which the sculptures were made.

Take time to look carefully, think about what you see, and consider the questions below. Your tour begins with a sculpture of one of the most popular Hindu gods, Ganesha. Using the Art Institute floor plan, proceed to Gallery 152/53, in the Rice Building.

After completing their tour, science students may return to their classroom to further research the media they encountered and conduct a lab experiment to simulate the effects of acid rain on stone sculpture.

9th–10th century
Gift of Mrs. Christian H. Aall in honor of her mother and father, 1996.673
GALLERY 153/152

Ganesha is one of the best-loved and most-often represented deities in the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. He is a son of Shiva and Parvati and is known as the benevolent one, remover of obstacles, and the god of auspicious beginnings. Most often, Ganesha is shown seated or dancing, with four arms, an elephant’s head and human body, and a rat, who serves as his vehicle.

This sculpture is carved from andesite, a volcanic stone. What are the characteristics of this volcanic stone? What is the surface appearance of this stone—texture, color, porosity, etc.? Is andesite found in India, or was this stone imported? Explain. Consider the geographical location of India and its land features (You may have to research some of the questions above when you return to the classroom.).

The Divine General Kartikeya/Shanmuhka
India, Andrha Pradesh, Madampalle
12th century, Ganga Period
Mr. and Mrs Sylvain S. Wyler, 1962.203
GALLERY 153/152

General Kartikeya is Shiva and Parvati’s other son and Ganesha’s brother. The word Shanmukha means “six-faced” and “lord of war,” and this god is the general of all the gods. While Kartikeya (also called Kumara) is popular, he is not as universally well-loved as his round, elephant-headed brother.

This sculpture is made of gray granite. Examine all parts of the sculpture and describe what you see. Does the surface color and texture vary from area to area, or does the appearance seem uniform? What are some of the characteristics of granite? How do you see those characteristics here? Is granite indigenous to India, or was the stone imported for the artist? What does the surface of the stone tell you about this sculpture’s history? What do you think was the function and location of this work? Why?

Transcendental Buddha
Indonesia, central Java
9th century
James W. and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection, 141.1997

The transcendental buddha is not the specific historical Buddha (originally known as Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who lived in Nepal in the 6th century B.C.) but is any past or future potential buddhas. This buddha is presented idealistically rather than realistically, with soft flowing robe and full rounded limbs. He is also presented in the typical pose of a buddha—the lotus position of meditation, with feet placed soles-up on opposite thighs.

What parts are missing from this sculpture? Why do you think that these pieces have been lost? Look at the surface of the sculpture. What are its color, texture, and porosity? How hard or soft do you think the material from which this sculpture was made might be? How do the material and form of the sculpture work together? Do you think the way the sculpture is carved is related to the physical characteristics of the stone?

Head of Transcendental Buddha
Indonesia, central Java
9th century
James W. and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection, 188.1997

This head probably was part of a complete transcendental Buddha image, though now the body portion has been lost. Like the body of the Transcendental Buddha (above), this buddha’s head is presented in an idealistic or rather than realistic manner, with soft facial features and defined physical characteristics called lakshana. Among these standard features are the urna, a tuft of hair between his eyes, which signifies his divine wisdom; the ushnisha, a bump on the top of his head that signifies his enlightenment; and elongated earlobes, which point to his former life as a wealthy prince.

Could this be the head of the sculpture you just looked at? Explain why or why not. Look at the surface. What are the color, texture, and porosity? How hard or soft do you think the material from which this sculpture was carved might be? Pretend you are a scientist and that you need to prove that this head belongs to the headless buddha. What experimental design should you use, or how should you investigate your hypothesis?

Take your time and examine carefully the other sculptures in these galleries. Read the label next to each sculpture. What are the prominent religions in the countries where the sculptures were made? What do you know about the religions? Do you think the artworks were patterned from earthly or divine characters? If you are unfamiliar with these religions, conduct library research about them when you return to your school. While in the gallery, explore the different types of stone that are used by the sculptors. Why do you think these types of stones were used? (Give at least two reasons.)

Select one work of art that you like. Read the label and record the important information.
Artist (if known):

Do you think this sculpture was carved by many artists or one artist? How long do you think it took the sculptor(s) to finish this art work? Did the sculptor(s) carve away from a single stone, or was the work created by manipulating soft material which hardened, or by assembling various materials? Explain. Is this a hard or soft stone? What kinds of tools might the sculptor(s) have used if the work was carved? Do you think that the form of the sculpture is related to the physical characteristics of the stone from which it is carved? Explain.

We hope that you have enjoyed using this self-guide. Come again to the Art Institute to see other Hindu or Buddhist works in the Southeast Asian art collection. Also, don’t miss the upcoming Himalayas exhibition, on view in the spring of 2003 and the forthcoming Art Access [link to AA site] unit on Southeast Asian art!