Asia Society Receives $1 Million Chairman's Special Award From the National Endowment For the Humanities

Collaborative Project Includes Exhibition of Buddhist Pilgrimage Art at Asia Society and Film Biography of the Buddha Created by David Grubin Productions

NEW YORK, NY, March 24, 2009 — The Asia Society announced today the granting of a $1 million Chairman's Special Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a special project examining the life of the Buddha and Buddhist pilgrimage art throughout Asia. This unprecedented endeavour includes the touring exhibition Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art at Asia Society Museum and a two-hour documentary film biography of the Buddha created by David Grubin, the distinguished documentary film producer, airing on PBS.

Despite the fact that Buddhism—after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism—is the world's fourth-largest religion, for many people, especially in the West, Buddha remains an exotic figure. Because the Buddha's life experiences have defined the places and practice of pilgrimage, the exhibition and documentary are designed to enhance one another.

Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art will open at Asia Society March 16 through June 20, 2010, and will travel to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in Fall 2010. The PBS nationwide premiere of the documentary, The Buddha, will coincide with the exhibition opening, and the film will be re-aired on venue-local PBS stations as the exhibition tours. Featuring clips from the documentary, the exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue, interactive website, symposium, and related humanities programs.

The NEH's Chairman's Special Award, a new category of implementation grants, supports projects of national visibility that are of compelling interest to the general public, show exceptional promise of dealing with important humanities ideas in new ways, and are likely to reach large audiences.

"Asia Society is extremely grateful to NEH for recognizing the unique and compelling nature of this project," said Melissa Chiu, Asia Society Museum Director and Vice President for Global Art Programs. "The award will enable us to share an appreciation for the profound influence of Buddhist pilgrimage on Asian art over the last two millennia."

"The NEH together with PBS have made the important film component of this project possible." David Grubin said. "I deeply appreciate the opportunity to produce a documentary that reflects upon the meaning of the Buddha's life. In these bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion, the Buddha's story is especially relevant."

Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art is the first-ever exhibition examining artistic production inspired by sacred sites and the practice of Buddhist pilgrimage in Asia. The exhibition will illuminate the ways in which Buddhist pilgrimage—both physical and mental—has been a source of inspiration to artists and craftsmen as well as a motivating force for patrons and collectors. The documentary will provide essential content material to the exhibition, as additional visual and audio footage will be presented to enhance specific exhibit elements. Viewers will enjoy a rare opportunity for a multifaceted, in-depth contextual experience of Buddhism, the overarching influence of the Buddha's life on pilgrimage, and the artwork central to its practice. Dr. Adriana Proser, Asia Society's John H. Foster Curator of Traditional Asian Art is the project's overall manager and is curator of the exhibition.

Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art will be comprised of over 100 objects of extraordinary quality and historic and artistic significance—textiles, sculpture, paintings, and manuscripts from lands as distant and culturally disparate as India, Japan, and Thailand and spanning the first through nineteenth centuries—many of which have never been displayed publicly. The exhibition will introduce the concepts of pilgrimage motivation, ritual preparation, movement, and worship at the sacred destination. Also explored will be painted, sculpted, and crafted representations of sacred sites used as aids for visualization by those who are unable or unwilling for a variety of reasons to make a physical pilgrimage themselves.

David Grubin's related film, The Buddha, will be the first documentary on PBS to explore the life story of Siddhartha Gautama, the historic Buddha and founder of the Buddhist faith. The documentary will tell the story of the Buddha's life journey, underlining its relationship to Buddhist pilgrimage practice, and drawing upon the work of some of the world's greatest artists and sculptors, who across two millennia have depicted the Buddha's life in art rich in beauty and complexity. The film explores the Buddha's unique contribution to the world's spiritual traditions and the meaning of the Buddha's message.

Asia Society Museum
The Asia Society Museum organizes and presents groundbreaking exhibitions and artworks previously unseen in the United States. The Museum is known for its permanent collection of masterpiece-quality works gifted to the Society by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, who founded Asia Society as a nonprofit educational institution in 1956. Through its exhibitions and related public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art.

Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders and institutions of the United States and Asia. The Society seeks to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of policy, business, education, arts and culture. Asia Society is a nonprofit educational institution with offices in Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington, DC.

David Grubin Productions
David Grubin Productions has produced over 100 films on subjects ranging from history to art, from poetry to science, winning David Grubin, the company President, every major award in his field, including three George Foster Peabody awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards, and ten Emmys.

David Grubin Productions has been widely acclaimed for its biographies of American Presidents, which have set the standard for television biography: LBJ, FDR, TR: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt, Truman, and Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided for American Experience on PBS.

Other award-winning work includes Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, The Secret Life of the Brain, The Mysterious Human Heart, RFK, Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers, and The Jewish Americans. His two-hour portrait of Robert Oppenheimer, The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer, aired on PBS in January 2009.

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Contact: Elaine Merguerian at 212-327-9313 or