What do you think of when you hear the words ‘art’ and ‘Worcester’ in the same sentence? The Worcester Art Museum (WAM) has been an iconic part of the growing Worcester art scene since its opening in 1898. Its dedicated staff wants the community to recognize and share in all that the Worcester art scene has to offer; as part of that mission, the New Worcester Spy will present interviews with WAM staff members over the next few weeks about their favorite pieces in the museum and why art matters in Worcester.
By Nicholas Clark
Strolling through the galleries of the Worcester Art Museum, not only will you find famed paintings or collections of arms and armor, but also sculptures from around the world that are ages older than the city of Worcester itself.
Guanyin Seated in a Grotto is an ancient relic worth visiting. Carved from granite during China’s late Song Dynasty (960-1279), Guanyin Seated in a Grotto tells a story unlike any other. This artifact’s historical significance, as well as its interesting mythology, is part of the reason why it stands out to the Assistant Curator of Asian Art, Vivian Li.
As Assistant Curator of Asian Art, Li is responsible for the art holdings as well as adding to the collection. The Guanyin Seated in a Grotto peaked Li’s interest as it is such a unique and deeply mysterious find for the museum. Working to preserve and understand its story, Li has come a long way with the sculpture, as it now stands ready in the Asian/Chinese gallery.
Guanyin Seated in a Grotto was crafted in reference to both a real Buddhist pilgrimage and the classic Asian story of the “Monkey King,” a widely popular myth that traces its roots back to the early days of Buddhist influence in China. Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who is depicted in the sculpture as a humble monk, freed the monkey king from his imprisonment. In return, the Monkey king protected Guanyin during his journey to India to collect Buddhist scriptures and bring them back to China.
Li describes the sculpture as “…an interesting depiction of stories of the divine,” a very compact form of a story with such deep meaning.
Significant as one of the earliest depictions of the “monkey king”, Li sees Guanyin Seated in a Grotto’s value as a rich connection to both Asian art as well as literature. An example of a foreign work that holds a different tradition and story than most western artworks, Guanyin Seated in a Grotto gives the Worcester community a unique view into a world unknown to many westerners.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, Guanyin Seated in a Grotto may render you speechless. This statue, on the most basic level a compact sculpture, becomes immensely complex when you understand more of its story and history. A gift to the Worcester Art Museum in 1933 from Stephan Bourgeois, Guanyin Seated in a Grotto resides in Gallery 110 under the care of Curator of Asian Art Vivian Li.