NEW YORK - A landmark exhibition opens in New York next week exploring the ancient kingdoms of Southeast Asia and introducing to the outside world the first treasures from Myanmar seen abroad.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art spent five years preparing the exhibition of Hindu-Buddhist sculptures from a region and ancient culture little known in the United States.
It features 160 stone, terracotta and bronze sculptures of which 22 are from Myanmar, the first pieces of art loaned by Yangon after emerging from decades of international isolation.
The rest from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Britain, France and elsewhere in the United States complete an exhibition that only the vast resources of the Metropolitan could pull off.
"Most of these powerful works of art have rarely if ever been on view outside their home countries," said the Met's British director Thomas Campbell.
"We are especially honoured that the government of Myanmar has signed its first-ever international loan agreement in order to lend their national treasures to this exhibition." The beautifully presented and painstakingly curated "Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia 5th to 8th Century," opens next Monday and runs until July 27.
The museum hopes that it will attract culture vultures keen to bone up on a little-known field, and backpackers and gap-year students who have enjoyed the beaches of Thailand and Vietnam.
Around 6.2 million people visited the Met in each of the last two years, a new audience for these ancient treasures and for Myanmar, which only emerged from international sanctions in 2012.
Curator John Guy said Southeast Asia was dismissed by ancient geographers as "that place beyond India and before China," but produced some of the greatest Hindu and Buddhist art to survive.
The exhibition tracks the period when both faiths took root in the region from India, absorbed into local belief systems and giving rise to the nation states of today.