Frist-Center Organized Exhibition 'Vishnu: Hinduism's Blue-Skinned Savior' First Major Museum Exhibition to Feature Deity

Dec 23, 2010, 17:00 ET from Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Frist-Organized Exhibition Opens Feb. 19, 2011, With Free Community Day

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Dec. 23, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Vishnu: Hinduism's Blue-Skinned Savior, the first major museum exhibition to focus on the Hindu deity Vishnu has been organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and will open with a free community preview day Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011.  The exhibition will open to the public as a ticketed exhibition Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011, and will remain on view in the Ingram Gallery through May 29, 2011

This exhibition, guest curated by Joan Cummins, Ph.D., Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, introduces one of Hinduism's primary deities to broad audiences through more than 170 paintings, textiles, prints and sculptures created in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh between the third and twentieth centuries.  The exhibition represents a variety of periods, regions, and art styles and reveals the many ways that Vishnu was portrayed and celebrated.  The works of art included in the exhibition were chosen for their artistic merit and for the novel or unusual treatments of their subject matter.

Vishnu has been worshipped for more than 2,000 years throughout India, and today, his devotees, known as Vaishnavas, can be found the world over. The god and his avatars have been the inspirations for countless great works of art and literature as well as music, dance and theatrical traditions.  The exhibition covers much of the history of art in India and reveals the remarkable intellectual, technical and aesthetic sophistication of ancient Indian tradition. The exhibition introduces non-Hindu audiences to the beauty and cultural meaning contained in works of art relating to the Vaishnava tradition while offering Hindu audiences the opportunity to share and celebrate the traditional expressions of their spiritual beliefs.

"We are honored to organize and present Vishnu: Hinduism's Blue-Skinned Savior, the first major exhibition to explore the Vaishnava tradition in art," said Frist Center Executive Director Susan H. Edwards, Ph.D.  "The material is incredibly deep and rich.  We hope to reach broad audiences, from armchair travelers, to local and regional South Asian communities, to those who simply enjoy cultural exploration."

As word of the exhibition has spread, the Indian community, worldwide, has been enthusiastic in its support.  Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, commented that it is "a laudable step for the Frist Center to provide opportunity to the world to further explore Hinduism and its concepts."

Curator Joan Cummins says "The art of India is relatively little known in the U.S., which is a shame because it's a tremendously rich tradition that gives form to thousands of years of spiritual inspiration through sophisticated craftsmanship. The diversity of Indian art and imagery is mind-boggling, and we hope to do justice to it with the selection of objects in the show.  But we also hope to alleviate some of the misconceptions and confusion about Hinduism that I think a lot of Americans have.  We hope that people will come away from the show wanting to know more about India and its neighboring countries.  The time is right for this kind of introduction to Indian art, culture, and religion."      

An Introduction to Vishnu

Hindu worship can be divided into three broad groups: those who worship Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer or Devi the Great Goddess. Each of these groups believes its god or goddess is responsible for creating and maintaining the cycle of life and serves as the portal to ultimate salvation.

Of the three supreme deities, Vishnu is the most multifaceted.  Although he is celebrated as the great creator of the cosmos, he most often serves as its savior, descending from heaven to save the world –and lesser gods—from powerful demons and myriad threats.  He assumes many shapes in his quest to maintain balance and order.  Sometimes he appears in primary form, with four arms, flying on his eagle, Garuda.  On other occasions, he takes a more limited, mortal body to live on earth as an animal or man.  These earthly bodies, or avatars, have their own talents and personalities but share Vishnu's blue skin tone. This feature distinguishes them from mere mortals and reflects Vishnu's associations with the sea and sky, and his cool, tranquil approach to saving the world.

The Exhibition

The first section of the exhibition, Images of Vishnu, introduces Vishnu in his primary form with subsections dedicated to his attributes, consorts and legends.  The second section of the exhibition, The Avatars of Vishnu, is devoted to Vishnu's avatars explored as a group as well as individually.  

The third section, Worshiping Vishnu, explores some of the ways the deity has been venerated over the centuries.  It includes images that depict the people who pray to Vishnu and the places where they pray.  It also examines objects used during prayer such as jewel-encrusted gold shrines for images of gods.  

In conjunction with Vishnu: Hinduism's Blue-Skinned Savior, the Frist Center Education Department has organized Hindu Home Shrines: Creating Space for Personal Contemplation, a companion exhibition that explores the many ways members of the Hindu faith incorporate worship in their lives.  With no single authoritative scripture or code, manner of Hindu worship is wholly individual, and reverence for the divine is embraced and demonstrated in many ways.  Most Hindu homes include a shrine, which can be simple or quite elaborate.  Hindu Home Shrines looks at five shrines from Nashville's Hindu community.

Exhibition Sponsors

The Frist Center gratefully acknowledges the exhibition sponsors:  

Platinum Sponsor: The HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals

Gold Sponsor: First Tennessee

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission and the Tennessee Arts Commission.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts thanks the Vishnu Advisory Committee and Friends of Vishnu for their support of this exhibition.

This exhibition is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Frist Center

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., is an art exhibition center dedicated to presenting the finest visual art from local, regional, U.S. and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions. Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and under and to Frist Center members. Frist Center admission is $10.00 for adults, $7.00 for seniors, military and college students with ID. Thursday and Friday evenings, 5:00 – 9:00 p.m., admission is free for college students with a valid college ID. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling (615) 744-3246. The Frist Center is open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., with the Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our Web site at

SOURCE Frist Center for the Visual Arts