Located at China’s western frontier, the ancient city of Dunhuang was at a crossroads of the civilizations of East Asia, Central Asia, and the Western world. The Gobi desert lay east. To the west, the soaring peaks of Mount Kunlun, Mount Tian, and the Pamirs encircled the dreaded Taklamakan desert. These surroundings of living rock, sand, wind, and water—alive with good and malevolent spirits—present a vast landscape both majestic and menacing. Yet by the late 4th century, and until the decline of the Silk Road in the 14th century, Dunhuang was a bustling desert oasis: a gateway for trade and pilgrimage, and for art, culture, and religion.
This exhibition brings us the wonders of Dunhuang’s cave temples through the eyes of James and Lucy Lo, with a representative selection of their photographs, ancient manuscripts, and artist renditions.
In 1943, during World War II, photojournalist James C. M. Lo (1902–1987) and his wife, Lucy, a photographer, arrived at Dunhuang by horse and donkey-drawn cart. Their ambitious 18-month project produced over 2,500 black and white images that record the caves as they were in the mid-20th century, capturing many views of the interiors and exteriors that no longer exist today. They also collected fragments of ancient texts and paintings-now the largest collection of Dunhuang manuscripts in the U.S.
After moving to Taiwan in the 1950s, the couple invited a group of young artists to produce life-size paintings of the cave murals based on the Los’ black-and-white photographs. The artists also added color to the renderings as remembered by the Los.
These remarkable works on view are testament to James and Lucy Lo’s mission to preserve and transmit the visual splendors of this ancient site.
The exhibition is organized in cooperation with the Princeton University Art Museum and the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art.