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Arts and Entertainment

Explore An Ancient Silk Road Cave At The Getty

Inside one of the replica caves (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
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A new exhibit at the Getty takes guests inside the ancient cave temples of Dunhuang, located along China's once bustling Silk Road. The Silk Road was a series of routes that people used for trade, so named for the sale of Chinese silk. Dunhuang is located in the Gansu Province in Western China and was considered a key stop along the Silk Road. There, you can find the Mogao Caves, which are believed to date back to the fourth century and were abandoned in the 14th century. There are nearly 500 temple caves here, full of Buddhist art and statues. Additionally, a number of ancient texts were found within a sealed cave in 1900. This cave has been called the Library Cave (or Cave 17), and was sealed in the 11th century.

'The cave temples of Mogao, carved into the cliff face along the Daquan River, are shaded by poplar trees planted in the 20th century and surrounded by austere desert. The nine-story temple can be seen at the center. Beyond the plateau above the cliff rise the Mingsha Shan—the Dunes of of the Singing Sands.' (Photo by Sun Zihijun/©Dunhuang Academy)
The Getty now boasts a fascinating collection of 43 objects—including murals and texts—from the Library Cave, as well as three replica caves and an immersive experience that places you inside Cave 45, a small cave not often seen by tourists.

James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, said via a statement:

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This major exhibition, unprecedented in scope, is the first in North America to fully explore the art, environment, and conservation of the Buddhist cave temples of Dunhuang. The Mogao site, located at the edge of the Gobi Desert, is a testament to a thousand years of religious, commercial, and cultural exchange along the trade routes linking East and West, collectively known as the Silk Road.

Inside a replica cave (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
The most traditional part of the exhibit is the gallery of objects from the Library Cave. Here, you can spot sketches, silk paintings, embroidery and other well-preserved items on loan from the British Museum, British Library, the Musée Guimet, and the National Library of France. As you might be able to tell from those names, it's rare to be able to view these objects in the U.S.

Among them is the Diamond Sutra, a sacred Mahayana Buddhist text dating back to 868 CE. According to the British Library, it is the world's "the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book."

Diamond Sutra, 868 CE, ink on paper. (London, British Library, Or.8210/P.2. Copyright © The British Library Board)
You may also go into three replica caves, each the same size as the actual cave in Dunhuang. The caves were recreated by artists from the Dunhuang Academy's Fine Arts Institute, and hail from the fifth, sixth and eighth century. Each is meticulously recreated, allowing guests to see the intricacy of the works inside.

Guiding Bodhisattva, ca. 850-900 CE, ink and pigments on silk with gold leaf. London, British Museum, 1919,0101,0.47. © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Dunhuang Academy is a Chinese institution founded in 1944 to conserve, research and manage the Mogao, Muslin and Western Thousand Buddha Grottoes.You can also partake in an immersive experience which places you inside of Cave 45. First, you will view a video of artwork and images in a dimly lit room before begin given 3D glasses and ushered into a dark, panoramic theater. The end result is the effect that you are standing in a cave, lit only with small amount of light coming from outside and your docent's flashlight, as he explains the Buddha and other figures found within.

Jeffrey Levin, Getty's Communications Editor, Information and Communications, said that this particular cave was selected for the experience because it is "small, beautiful, with lots of sculptures. Even visitors to Mogao don't see it."

The Getty will also host several events surrounded the exhibit, including an interactive Family Festival, multiple lectures, a Yo-Yo Ma performance at the Hollywood Bowl, and related events at the Hammer Museum. See a full list here.

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Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China's Silk Road is on view from May 7 to September 4 at the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. Hours are Tues.-Thurs, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Getty is closed on Mondays. Admission to The Getty is free, and timed tickets to the replica caves can be acquired for free on the day that you visit. Parking is $15/car or $10 after 4 p.m.

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