Worcester Art Museum Exhibits Lewis deSotos Contemporary Interpretation of Colossal Stone Buddha

WORCESTER, MASS., AUGUST 9, 2001 - An installation of California artist Lewis deSoto's recent sculpture, 25 feet long and gently inflated, fills the Contemporary Gallery at the Worcester Art Museum from Sept. 1 through Nov. 18, 2001.

The 1999 sculpture, Paranirvana (self-portrait), melds deSoto's interests in the ancient Buddhist tradition and in contemporary media. Inspired by a 12th-century colossal stone carving of the reclining Buddha in Sri Lanka, deSoto created his own version of the figure in painted nylon and inflated with a small air fan.

“Lewis deSoto is one of very few artists today whose work deals with deeper questions of shared human beliefs and experiences-across boundaries of time and culture,” said Worcester Art Museum's curator of contemporary art, Susan L. Stoops. “His Paranirvana is uniquely poignant in its monumentality and fragility, its embrace of historical iconography yet unmistakable contemporary identity.”

The traditional Paranirvana image commemorates the physical death of the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, who lived and taught in India in the 6th century B.C. Sakyamuni reached enlightenment at age 35, after which he was recognized as Buddha, or “fully enlightened one.” Many decades later, as Buddha lay in pain dying, he continued to give compassionate lessons on the nature of consciousness and the structure of the samsara, the wheel of life, death, suffering and rebirth.

DeSoto's Paranirvana depicts the familiar pose of a reclining Buddha, resting on his right side, head in his palm. Facial details and the folds of his robe are given a stylized treatment much like the original stone carving. DeSoto's twists on the subject matter are his choice of media and decision to supplant his own bearded face on the Buddha, alluding to what he describes as “the Buddha nature in all of us.”

“By putting his own face on the Buddha, deSoto links the past and present, and invites us to contemplate with him our place in the universe and how will we face the moment of our own death,” Stoops said.

Based on a photo-reproduction of the stone original, the work was constructed from a clay model about two feet long that was scaled into its final form using computer technology. DeSoto used Adobe Photoshop software to replace Buddha's face with a photographic image of his own. Under his supervision, commercial balloon fabricators in San Diego manufactured the inflatable form. Facial details, “snail shell” curls of hair and the linear folds of Buddha's monastic robe were painted with an airbrush. Dependent on air to hold its shape, deSoto's Paranirvana “breathes” to the faint hum of an electric motor fan.

“Although the scale of Paranirvana initially seems, like the subject of death, daunting and overpowering, its fragile materiality and empty interior ultimately underscore a sense of insubstantiality and impermanence,” said Stoops.

DeSoto brings to his work a strong interest in archaeology, anthropology and world religions. His work employs a broad range of treatments, media and environments, incorporating mechanical and audio components, and he oftentimes collaborates with engineers, technicians and musicians.

About the Artist
Born in 1954, Lewis deSoto lives in Napa, Calif. and maintains a studio in New York City. He is a professor of art at San Francisco State University. He received a B.A. in studio art in 1978 from the University of California, Riverside, and a M.F.A. in 1981 from Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, Calif. Over the past two decades, his work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States as well as England, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. He has received numerous commissions for public projects and was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. DeSoto is represented in New York by Bill Maynes Gallery.

This Worcester Art Museum exhibition is supported by the Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund.

September Tour of the Month-Artists Reach for the Infinite
Wednesday, Sept. 19 and Saturday, Sept. 22 (2 p.m.)
Museum Docent and studio instructor Mark Lynch leads a tour through the galleries exploring works of art that attempt to capture a sense of timelessness and the infinite, both religious and secular. The tour highlights the work of Lewis deSoto on exhibit in the Contemporary Gallery. Cost: free.

Contemporary Art Forum
Thursdays, Sept. 27 and Nov. 15 (5-7 p.m.)
Join Susan Stoops, curator of contemporary art, and other members of the Worcester-area art community for lively, informal discussions about current exhibitions and issues in contemporary culture at these evening gatherings in the Contemporary Gallery. Call (508) 799-4406, ext. 3005 for more information. Cost: free.

Artist's Talk and Reception: Lewis deSoto
Thursday, Oct. 25, 7 p.m.
Meet the innovative sculptor Lewis deSoto, and view his installation, Paranirvana, in the Contemporary Gallery. Interpreting a well-known belief, deSoto puts his face on a 25-foot-long, reclining Buddha. Made from painted cloth, the sculpture is inflated using a small air fan. DeSoto, who lives in California's Napa Valley, is a professor of art at San Francisco State University. He is represented in New York by Bill Maynes Gallery. Cost: free.

Museum Background

Opened to the public in 1898, the Worcester Art Museum is the second largest art museum in New England. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Throughout its first century, the Worcester Art Museum proved itself a pioneer: the first American museum to purchase work by Claude Monet (1910) and Paul Gauguin (1921); the first museum to bring a medieval building to America (1927); a sponsor of the first major excavation at Antioch, one of the four great cities of ancient Rome (1932); the first museum to create an Art All-State program for high school artists (1987); the originator of the first exhibition of Dutch master Judith Leyster (1993); and the first museum to focus its contemporary art programs on art of the last 10 years (1998). The Museum's hours are: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am-5pm, and Saturday 10am-5pm. Admission: FREE for members; Non-members: $8 Adults; $6 Seniors and full-time college students with current ID; FREE for youth 17 and under; FREE for everyone Saturday mornings 10am-noon sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company. For more information, call (508) 799-4406 or visit the Museum at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester.