Asia Society Museum Presents Comparative Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds
NEW YORK; October 31, 2022 — Asia Society Museum presents Comparative Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds, the first comprehensive exhibition in the United States to explore portrayals of hell across the Asian religious traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Islam.
Comparative Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds examines how systems of belief and the underworlds within them are manifest in the rich artistic productions of Asia. This international loan exhibition comprises 54 exemplary artworks, spanning the tenth to twenty-first century, in a variety of mediums and formats. The exhibition will be on view at Asia Society Museum in New York February 28–May 7, 2023.
Exceptional and visually stunning artworks explore the impact of conceptions of hell on Asian visual culture over time. These works provide insight on how ideas of the underworld have influenced artistic production and how artworks in turn have been used as didactic tools, enhancing and influencing religious doctrine. Distinctive artistic practices and commonalities and differences in conceptions of the afterlife across religions and cultures are also explored.
Didactic paintings, sculptures, and sacred objects introduce the notions of Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Islamic cosmology, as well as concepts about judgment, punishment, and salvation after death—many of which are shared by these traditions. Exhibition artworks portray religious threats of fiery torture as a means to shape values and beliefs, to instill virtuous behavior, and to encourage atonement for sins, reflecting a universal human desire for spiritual transformation.
The exhibition is presented in five thematic sections. Situating Hell places hell in the larger religious cosmos, including paradises associated with the religious traditions represented in the exhibition. Judgment comprises images showing humans being condemned after death for their behavior during life. Graphic scenes of torture are included in Punishment in manuscript illuminations intended for teaching or display in religious edifices. In a number of religious traditions, the hope of an opportunity to escape from hell exists through the assistance of an intercessor, and Salvation is dedicated to images of such saviors and scenes of their acts of mercy. Finally, Contemporary Hell includes a small selection of works by contemporary Asian artists—Afruz Amighi, Luis Lorenzana, Tsherin Sherpa, and Lu Yang—whose works present historical interpretations of hell in innovative ways to resonate with contemporary fears and tragedies.
Comparative Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds is guest curated by Dr. Adriana Proser, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Quincy Scott Curator of Asian Art at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, with Asia Society curator Laura Weinstein, John H. Foster Associate Curator, Pre-Modern Art. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with contributions by curator and editor, Adriana Proser, as well as esteemed scholars Geok Yian Goh, Phyllis Granoff, Christiane Gruber, Michelle Yun Mapplethorpe, and D. Max Moerman. The catalogue is copublished by Asia Society Museum and Officina Libraria.
A series of educational and public programs will provide additional context for understanding key exhibition themes, including a scholarly symposium, performances, and discussions.
Comparative Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds will tour to the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, where it will be on view June 16–September 18, 2023.
Comparative Hell: Arts of Asian Underworlds is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major support for this exhibition is also provided by the Carpenter Foundation. Asia Society acknowledges other generous underwriters, including the Hillman Family Foundation.
About Asia Society Museum
Asia Society Museum presents a wide range of traditional, modern, and contemporary exhibitions of Asian art and Asian American art, taking new approaches to familiar masterpieces and introducing under-recognized arts and artists. The Asia Society Museum Collection comprises a traditional art collection, including the initial bequests of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, and a contemporary art collection. Through exhibitions and public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art, and in Asia today.
Asia Society Museum is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City. For hours and admission information, visit AsiaSociety.org/NY. Connect with us on Instagram @AsiaSociety, and on Facebook and Twitter @AsiaSocietyNY.