After a year of repairs caused by last year’s biblical hail storm, which forced an early evacuation of last year’s exhibition on Corita Kent, the San Antonio Museum of Art is bouncing back with a new special collection: Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism.

When hell looks this good, though, the dilemma doesn’t feel quite so dire. An impressive 70-pieces, assembled from collections across the country, comprise a cultural and theosophical journey across a continent that is understood best through the art it left behind – the legacy of Pure Land Buddhism.

The project is curated by Dr. Emily Sano, whom we were fortunate to have as our guide during the press preview. Dr. Sano was more than a delightful host; the passion and knowledge for the citizens of her reliquary leaves her a dam ripe to burst, and I daresay to meander nel purgatorio without her as your Virgil would be a shadow of the full experience.

The range of the art is impressive to say the least; during the guided preview, we were led past giant, angry niou guardians, threading between pantheons of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, before myriad moldering shrines – glad to remember their old uses – and into halls of majestic hanging scrolls; impressive, not just for the variety in media, but for sheer volume of humanity it spans: mythic Vedic empires, dynasties of the Jin and Tang in China, a Korean penninsula united under Silla, the mysterious isle of Shinto-ensorcelled Japan, and the miles of vast wilderness and homesteads in between.

There is much and more to this story – pages, in fact, I have yet to write – but I must end here before this preview is no longer technically a preview. For now, enjoy the gallery generously provided to CO LAB by the San Antonio Museum of Art, and stay tuned for an expanded review.

The Heaven and Hell exhibition opens to the public tomorrow and runs until September 10.

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