Chinese Caves – Replication and Education

Cave 275-back wall

The Getty museum is a wealthy (literally) resource for art lovers of all kinds, and the museum recently has created quiet the buzz with their “Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road” exhibition (on view at the Getty Center until September 4th). This exhibition consists of three main parts: a to-actual-scale replica of three caves, a virtual 3D video of another cave, and a gallery exhibition. It focuses on a selected few Buddhist caves from Dunhuang, China which are located along the Silk Road and through their imagery house extravagant displays of travel, Buddhism, and life from the 5th-8th centuries as well as gallery displays that display artworks from the 4th century to today.

There are three replicated caves which are all entombed side by side in a giant “tent” just in front of the tram drop-off. Each cave is replicated so that it is as close to the original as possible through its size, sculptures, and paintings. You’re allowed a short period of time to photograph and admire replicas of Cave 275, 285, and 320. The artists and art historians intended for the caves to look as they would if you were to walk in them today, therefore they show signs of “damage”, and appear cracked, faded, or rubbed away in certain areas. Between these realistic stylized choices and the lighting, these caves are intended to make you feel as though you are stepping into a time capsule in the outskirts of the Gobi desert in China. They display several Buddhist scenes, symbols, and characters such as Buddha and his faithful Bodhisattvas. The artists were able to create these replications in the original caves using the actual frescos as well as photos to create their paintings and sculptures which were then brought over from China and installed t the Getty center. This is an amazing opportunity for people to experience these rare treasures, even if the original cave in China is no longer open to the public.

The “virtual immersive experience” is located in the Research Library and consists of a short 3D film (3D glasses provided) which showcases Cave 45, which is from the 8th century. It guides you along the back wall’s sculptural figures and then through the flanking wall’s stories and iconography. This is a fun way to learn about, and appreciate, the art of this cave!

Lastly, next door to the 3D experience is a more standard-style gallery. This gallery displays several sutra copies, Bodhisattva images, and various imagery that represents the Silk Road and the caves. This is a rare opportunity for the West Coast of America to experience the rich heritage of these Chinese Caves!


Cave 320

All photographs are my own, for more information please visit the Getty’s website at:


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