Lukas NICKEL 倪克魯
University of Vienna 維也納大學

Exhibiting Qingzhou Buddhist Sculpture in Museums

In 1996 workers levelling a playground in Qingzhou, Shandong, came across a pit filled with Buddhist sculptures. Staff of the local museum recovered fragments of about 320 figures most of which were dating to the 6th century AD. Already in the following year the find was presented to the public, during an exhibition at the National Museum of China. In 2000 the Hong Kong Museum of Fine Arts staged a special show. In 2001 a large-scale special exhibition was created at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich, and was shown at the Alte Museum in Berlin, the Royal Academy in London, and the Sackler Gallery in Washington. In each venue visitor numbers reached record levels. Over the following years more exhibitions followed in Sydney, Singapore, Paris and other places. Even if found only a few years before and even if their context was still little understood, the Qingzhou Buddhist sculptures soon became some of the most frequently exhibited artworks from China.

The paper will summarise what is known to date about the find, and will raise the question: Why did these sculptures provoke such an extraordinary interest equally among a Chinese and a foreign audience? Why did these objects of Buddhist worship appeal equally to Buddhist and non-Buddhist viewers? What made them attractive to visitors even if removed from their original context and presented in Museums? The talk will try and explain the exceptional appeal of these art works for a modern audience.