Curator's Choice. 'Like stars seen on the bottom of deep wells': Recalling a Shakyamuni in Detroit by Birgitta Augustin
The November 1929 Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts of the City of Detroit included an article, ‘New Chinese Sculptures,’ by Benjamin March (1899–1935)—then the curator of Asiatic art at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)—which detailed the acquisition of several objects, including a Yuan-dynasty (1271–1368) lacquered wooden figure of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha (Fig. 1). In a letter to the art dealer C. T. Loo, dated about one year earlier, to 20 December 1928, March acknowledged the receipt of the ‘small figure of the Buddha as ascetic’ (DIA Archives). In addition to a group of Indian art objects, mostly sculptures, this piece was intended for display in the new ‘Indian room’, a project that was initiated by March with Loo as advisor. Further correspondence between the two suggests that March was particularly struck by the lacquered sculpture, for which he seems to have proactively offered a purchase price.