Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Receives Leading Collection of Tibetan Buddhist Art from Alice S. Kandell

July 20, 2011
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An important collection of Tibetan Buddhist art in the U.S. has been given to the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler galleries, announced the gift in the presence of the Dalai Lama and the donor, Alice S. Kandell of New York, July 16 in Washington D.C.

“Your intention is very good,” said the Dalai Lama. “Showing Tibetan art and providing an explanation is important. People will gain a deeper understanding of the Buddha and a way of thinking that is very much based on peace and compassion.”  

Kandell, a child psychologist, author and photographer with a lifelong interest in Himalayan culture, carefully built the collection—including a magnificent shrine room containing hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist bronzes, paintings and objects—over five decades.

The shrine room is considered the only one of such magnitude and artistic quality in the U.S. and will significantly transform the Sackler’s collection of Himalayan art.

The shrine contains 220 objects—bronzes, thangkas (scroll paintings) and ritual implements created between the 12th and 19th centuries on the Tibetan Plateau and in China and Mongolia, as well as textiles and painted chests dating from the 19th and early 20th century. Among the most impressive objects in the collection are large gilt-bronze Buddhas and bodhisattvas dating from the 15th–18th centuries; an exquisite Mongolian silver Buddha with seashell and coral adornments; a superb gilded bronze of the goddess Tara with a gem-encrusted crown; and jewelry, attributes and thangkas, framed within their original silk brocade and possessing their original finials.

Large collections of Tibetan sculptures that retain their original, separately cast, jewel-encrusted crowns, earrings and attributes are rare.

“Alice Kandell’s passion and foresight led her to build and steward this remarkable shrine and collection,” said Raby. “We are honored that she has chosen to share it to the nation as a gift to the Sackler Gallery with the goal that it be seen and appreciated by the widest possible audience. We intend to work closely with local Tibetan and Himalayan communities to ensure the continued vibrancy of these living cultural and spiritual traditions, and we will seek their participation in building special events and activities to enrich the shrine space and introduce the public to Tibetan culture.”

For Kandell, the gift of the collection is the culmination of many years of appreciation of Tibetan sacred art and culture, combined with a longstanding desire to share it with the public. “I have always wanted to offer the same joy and fulfillment that I have gotten from this shrine room to others, so I am delighted that the Smithsonian is helping to present the shrine in a way that retains its integrity. The works of art contained in the shrine are part of the culture and life of Tibet. They belong to the Tibetan people and as such belong to the artistic and cultural heritage of the world.”

In 2010, the shrine was first exhibited to the public at the Sackler in the exhibition “In the Realm of the Buddha: The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine of Alice S. Kandell,” which drew 300,000 visitors in four months. A smaller version of the shrine is on display at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in New York through April 1, 2013. After a period of preparation the shrine will return to the Sackler Gallery for extended exhibition and a possible national tour. Dates for the exhibition and tour have not been announced.

History of the Collection

Kandell’s interest in Himalayan art and culture began during her college years, when she took the first of many trips to Sikkim, Ladakh and Nepal. She began collecting on a modest scale commensurate with her status as a student, and also gave lectures on Tibetan Buddhist art and Sikkim across the U.S. For over 50 years she continued to travel, collect and document the Himalayan region in two books of photography, Sikkim: The Hidden Kingdom (Doubleday) and Mountaintop Kingdom: Sikkim (Norton).

In 1994, Kandell acquired the substantial holdings of Philip Rudko, a serious collector of Tibetan and Mongolian art for more than 40 years. Rudko had acquired works of art from a small group of Tibetan families who immigrated to the U.S. after 1959.  Rudko has since acted as Kandell’s curator.

A book about the collection, A Shrine for Tibet: The Alice S. Kandell Collection, with a foreword by the Dalai Lama, was published in 2009 by Tibet House US.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., together house the nation's collections of Asian art on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or visit

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Photo caption: Alice S. Kandell with the Dalai Lama at the official announcement of her gift, an extensive collection of Himalayan art, to the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.



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Amanda Williams

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Deborah Galyan

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