Power and Desire: South Asian Paintings from the San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection


Made for the Muslim and Hindu rulers in the northern and western parts of pre-modern India, paintings from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century are replete with themes of earthly and divine power and courtly and ethereal love. Power and Desire explores these two themes and the complex relationship between them as seen in some of the finest Indian court paintings. The exhibition includes three sections: Rule and Domain - life of the court; Love and Longing-earthly and divine love of mortals and gods; and Divine Realms-the realms of the gods. The three overarching themes are intended to be porous, allowing viewers to engage with the subtle yet dynamic layers of interaction among the three sections. 

All of the paintings in Power and Desire were made for Indian rulers or their families and courtiers. Originally the paintings were gathered in unbound sets or incorporated into sumptuous manuscripts or albums. They were kept wrapped, stored in closets, and brought out on special occasions for the viewing pleasures of the ruler or patrons. This practice has allowed the pictures to remain vibrant over the centuries.

In addition to the thematic connections between courtly and divine power and love, the exhibition also illuminates stylistic interactions between The Royal Courts of the subcontinent. Thus, the paintings range from delicate realism of the court scenes of the Mughal emperors, who ruled from Delhi and Agra, to brilliant color compositions of love narratives of Krishna, made for tiny Hindu courts in the Punjab hills. Together, these small paintings create a kaleidoscopic view of the world that is at once rich in everyday details and cosmic allusions . 


The collection, more than 1,450 works of art, came to the San Diego Museum of Art in 1990. The late Edwin Binney, heir to the Crayola fortune, served on the board of the museum from 1977 to 1979 and from 1983 to 1986. The collection ranges in date from twelfth-century manuscripts to twentieth-century paintings, from nearly every important court and period on the subcontinent. 

Power and Desire
 is organized by the San Diego Museum of Art in collaboration with the Asia Society, New York. 

The exhibition is co-curated by Vishakha N. Desai, Senior Vice-President and Director of the Galleries, Asia Society; Kavita Singh, Research Editor, Marg Publications; and Caron Smith, Curator of Asian Art, San Diego Museum of Art. 

The curators wish to thank B.N. Goswamy, Andrew Topsfield, and Ellen Smart for generously sharing their understanding. 

In New York, support for the exhibition and related programs has been provided by Dr. and Mrs. Purnendu Chatterjee, Mr. and Mrs. Rohit M. Desai, Laurence F. Whittemore, The Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Beningson, Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian, Tushar D. Kothari, Anand and Abha Kumar, Doris Wiener, J. Watumull Fund, and Mary Wallach (list in formation). 

Support for the Asia Society's Cultural Programs is provided by the Friends of Asian Arts, Wallace - Reader's Digest Funds, The Starr Foundation, Booth Ferris Foundation, The Armand G. Erpf Fund, The Arthur Ross Foundation, and the Harold J. and Ruth Newman Philanthropic Fund.

View the online exhibition here.

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