Tibetan Buddhist art is like no other art. It burns with a sharp, nervy incandescence, like a fire generously stoked but tightly contained. The most comprehensive gathering of such material in the West belongs to the Newark Museum. And recently, with the museum celebrating its 90th birthday, an unparalleled amount of that work was on view. Tibetan Buddhist art is like no other art. It burns with a sharp, nervy incandescence, like a fire generously stoked but tightly contained. The most comprehensive gathering of such material in the West belongs to the Newark Museum. And recently, with the museum celebrating its 90th birthday, an unparalleled amount of that work was on view.

How did Tibet come to New Jersey? By chance. In 1910, the year after the museum opened, one of its founding trustees, Edward N. Crane, was on a ship bound for the United States from Japan. Among his fellow passengers was a medical missionary named Albert L. Shelton, returning from a six-year stint in China and eastern Tibet. Crane learned of—maybe even saw—the trove of Tibetan art objects, sacred and secular, that Shelton was carrying in trunks and crates back to America: liturgical vessels, religious paintings, ceremonial robes, jewelry, weapons and carpets, some received as gifts, others salvaged from a country beset by local wars and invasion.

Crane quickly proposed that the exotic material make its Western debut at the Newark Museum the following year. The exhibition turned out to be a blockbuster, pulling a crowd of nearly 18,000 people within a few months. When Crane died suddenly just after it closed, his family bought the material from Shelton and donated it to the museum.

Newark has assiduously added to this core collection ever since and has been hugely fortunate in the specialists who have overseen its expansion and care. The present curator of Asian art, Valrae Reynolds, has been with the museum for nearly 30 years, and she is the organizer of this splendid exhibition, “From the Sacred Realm: Treasures of Tibetan Art in the Collection of the Newark Museum.”

The show is in two parts. One is a temporary display of mostly secular materials in the first-floor special exhibition galleries, including a full-size embroidered tent too large to be shown ordinarily. Religious art fills the refurbished permanent Tibetan galleries upstairs, which incorporate a Buddhist altar consecrated by the Dalai Lama in 1990.

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