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Story of the Shrine Room
About Alice S. Kandell
Objects in the Shrine Room

The Story of the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room from the Alice S. Kandell Collection

In 2010, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery received the extraordinary gift of a Tibetan Buddhist shrine that the New York collector Dr. Alice S. Kandell had assembled over many years. In October 2017, an expanded iteration of the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, featuring objects never before publicly displayed, was installed at the Sackler Gallery as part of the exhibition Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia.

A counterbalance to traditional museum displays of sacred art, the shrine room is an immersive environment that invites visitors to encounter Tibetan Buddhist art in a manner evoking the sacred precincts of the Himalayas. The experience is multisensory, as flickering lights evoke butter-lamp offerings and the sonorous chanting of Tibetan monks fills the room. More than two hundred objects are exhibited on painted furniture rather than in glass cases, hung among traditional textiles rather than on white walls, and presented without the mediation of labels. This display conjures the crowded, overlapping placement of objects typical of Tibetan shrines, in contrast to the open spaces of traditional museum galleries. Reflecting Tibetan Buddhist concepts and customs, the arrangement of sculptures and paintings seeks to restore the objects’ contextual relationships.

The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room from the Alice S. Kandell Collection is on display through November 2020. Learn more about Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia.

About Alice S. Kandell

photo of Alice S. Kandell

The assemblage of objects comprising the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room is the result of Dr. Alice S. Kandell’s longstanding appreciation and collecting of Tibetan sacred art, combined with her persistent desire to share this important collection with the public. Over decades, Kandell acquired hundreds of bronze sculptures, thangkas, textile banners, painted furniture, and ritual implements. Her hope is that the shrine recreates the immersive experience of Tibetan Buddhism’s sacred spaces, and provides moments of peace and contemplation.

Kandell’s interest in Tibetan art and culture began during her college years, when she took the first of many trips to Sikkim, Tibet, and Ladakh. Throughout her career as a child psychologist in New York, she continued to pursue her love of Tibetan Buddhist sacred art. Along with traveling and collecting, she documented the region’s works and culture in two books of photography, Sikkim: The Hidden Kingdom (Doubleday) and Mountaintop Kingdom: Sikkim (Norton). By 1994, Kandell had amassed one of the most comprehensive Tibetan art collections in the United States, which is documented in the book A Shrine for Tibet (Tibet House US). She made her first significant gift of objects to the Freer and Sackler in 2011, the same year she donated three hundred photographs taken on her Himalayan travels to the Library of Congress.

Objects in the Shrine Room

There are more than two hundred objects featured in the shrine, including not only sculptures, paintings, and ritual implements, but also musical instruments, textiles, and furniture.

The following objects have been accessioned into the collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and are searchable on the Freer and Sackler website:
S2011.10a–c; S2011.11; S2011.12a–c; S2012.3; S2012.4a–e; S2012.5a–b; S2012.6; S2012.7; S2013.19a–c; S2013.20a–d; S2013.21a–e; S2013.22a–j; S2013.23a–e; S2013.24a–d; S2013.25a–c; S2013.26a–b; S2013.27a–b; S2013.28.1 ; S2013.28.4; S2013.28.5; S2013.28.6; S2013.29.3; S2013.29.4; S2014.19; S2015.28.1a–b; S2015.28.2; S2015.28.3; S2015.28.4; S2015.28.5; S2015.28.6a–b; S2015.28.8; S2015.28.9a–c; S2015.28.10a–b; S2015.28.11a–b; S2015.28.12.1; S2015.28.12.2; S2015.28.12.3; S2015.28.12.4; S2015.28.12.5; S2015.28.13; S2016.26a–c; S2016.27; S2016.28; S2016.29; S2016.30a–b; S2016.31a–c; S2016.32; S2016.33a–b; S2016.34; S2016.35

The rest of the objects are promised gifts from the collection of Alice S. Kandell:
ELS2010.4.2a–b; ELS2010.4.17; ELS2010.4.22; ELS2010.4.23.1–7a–b; ELS2010.4.34a–e; ELS2010.4.38; ELS2010.4.41; ELS2010.4.43a–I; ELS2010.4.44a–b; ELS2010.4.45; ELS2010.4.47; ELS2010.4.48; ELS2010.4.49; ELS2010.4.51a–k; ELS2010.4.53; ELS2010.4.54; ELS2010.4.55a–f; ELS2010.4.56a–f; ELS2010.4.57a–f; ELS2010.4.64; ELS2010.4.65; ELS2010.4.66.1–6; ELS2010.4.67.1a–b–8a–b; ELS2010.4.68a–e; ELS2010.4.69a–e; ELS2010.4.72a–h; ELS2010.4.73.1–7; ELS2010.4.75.1–2; ELS2010.4.76.1–2a–e; ELS2010.4.77.1–2; ELS2010.4.80a–k; ELS2010.4.81a–t; ELS2010.4.85a–c; ELS2010.4.86; ELS2010.4.87.1a–c–2; ELS2010.4.88.1–2; ELS2010.4.91; ELS2010.4.98; ELS2010.4.101; ELS2010.4.105a–e; ELS2010.4.106a–e; ELS2010.4.107; ELS2010.4.108; ELS2010.4.109a–b; ELS2010.4.110; ELS2010.4.111a–c; ELS2010.4.123a–c; ELS2010.4.124.1–3; ELS2010.4.127; ELS2010.4.128a–c; ELS2010.4.134.1–2; ELS2010.4.136.1–2; ELS2010.4.138.1–2; ELS2010.4.140.1–2; ELS2010.4.144.1–2; ELS2010.4.149.1–2; ELS2010.4.152; ELS2010.4.154; ELS2010.4.155; ELS2010.4.160; ELS2010.4.163; ELS2010.4.164; ELS2010.4.165; ELS2010.4.166a–e; ELS2010.4.167a–s; ELS2010.4.168; ELS2010.4.169a–e; ELS2010.4.170; ELS2010.4.172a–f; ELS2010.4.173a–k; ELS2010.4.174a–b; ELS2010.4.175.1–2; ELS2010.4.177.1–2; ELS2010.4.179; ELS2010.4.180; ELS2010.4.181a–d; ELS2010.4.182; ELS2010.4.184a–d; ELS2010.4.185; ELS2010.4.186a–b; ELS2010.4.187a–e; ELS2010.4.188; ELS2010.4.189a–m; ELS2010.4.190a–e; ELS2010.4.191a–e; ELS2010.4.192; ELS2010.4.193a–c; ELS2010.4.194; ELS2010.4.195; ELS2010.4.196a–c; ELS2010.4.197; ELS2010.4.199a–c; ELS2010.4.202.1–2; ELS2010.4.203.1–2; ELS2010.4.205a–b; ELS2010.4.206; ELS2010.4.207; ELS2010.4.208; ELS2010.4.210.1–2; ELS2010.4.212; ELS2017.2.7.1–2; ELS2017.2.8.1–2; ELS2017.2.9; ELS2017.2.10; ELS2017.2.13; ELS2017.2.14; ELS2017.2.15; ELS2017.2.16; ELS2017.2.17; ELS2017.2.18; ELS2017.2.19; ELS2017.2.20; ELS2017.2.21.1–2; ELS2017.2.22.1–7; ELS2017.2.23; ELS2017.2.24; ELS2017.2.25.1–7; ELS2017.2.26a–c; ELS2017.2.27; ELS2017.2.28; ELS2017.2.29; ELS2017.2.30; ELS2017.2.31; ELS2017.2.32; ELS2017.2.33; ELS2017.2.34; ELS2017.2.35.1–2; ELS2017.2.36; ELS2017.2.37; ELS2017.2.38; ELS2017.2.39; ELS2017.2.40; ELS2017.2.41; ELS2017.2.42; ELS2017.2.43

From spring 2019 through November 2020, the following paintings will go on view in the shrine room:
ELS2010.4.93; ELS2010.4.94a–c; ELS2010.4.95; ELS2010.4.96; ELS2010.4.99; ELS2010.4.100; ELS2010.4.204.1; ELS2010.4.204.2; ELS2010.4.211; ELS2017.2.11; ELS2017.2.12; S2013.28.2–3; S2013.28.3; S2013.29.1; S2013.29.2; S2013.30

Shrine room chanting:
Initiation Ceremony of Guhyasamaja Tantra
Offering of Seven Royal Emblems
Consecration Ceremony of Yamantaka: "Raining Good Fortune"
“Eighty Thousand Obstructions"
The Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir, from the recording The Perfect Jewel: Sacred Chants of Tibet, HRT15022, courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. ©. Used with permission.