Conservation in Action: Japanese Buddhist Sculpture in a New Light

December 15, 2018–June 30, 2020
Walter Ames Compton, MD Gallery (Gallery 280)
Free with Museum Admission

A rare, behind-the-scenes look at the conservation of seven Buddhist sculptures

Visitors are invited to watch as objects conservators study and treat seven Japanese Buddhist sculptures in a public conservation studio. The wooden figures—images of worship depicting Buddhas, Guardian Kings, and a Wisdom King—are decorated with polychromy or gilding and date from the 9th to the 12th centuries. The conservation project occupies an entire gallery in the Museum, allowing visitors to observe the techniques employed by objects conservators as they carefully clean the sculptures and secure areas of loose paint, lacquer, and gilding. The gradual relocation of the sculptures from the Museum's beloved Japanese Buddhist Temple Room, where they normally reside, enables museum-goers to see the objects in a new setting for the first time in decades. Also on exhibit are three sculptures from storage that serve as points of comparison to exemplify different sculptural techniques, styles, and states of preservation.

The public studio also provides a space for conservators and curators to look closely at the sculptures in collaboration with the Museum's research scientists, identifying the original artists' materials, documenting early restorations, and working with wood anatomists in Japan to confirm the wood identifications. In 2020, the sculptures will return to the refurbished Japanese Buddhist Temple Room.

Follow our progress at #mfaconservation, and for an in-depth look at this conservation project, see Conservation in Action.


Mass Cultural Council logo

Renovation of the Buddhist Temple Room and “Conservation in Action: Japanese Buddhist Sculpture in a New Light” are generously supported by the Vance Wall Foundation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Lisbeth Tarlow and Stephen Kay, Bettina Burr, and Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co. Ltd.