A rich array of Asian art is represented in the collection, including ancient Iranian pottery from the early first millennium BCE and an assortment of Southeast Asian pottery that ranges from creations of the ancient Ban Chiang culture to 16th-19th century Khmer and Vietnamese ceramics. Numerous fine examples of 19th century Japanese Ukiyo-e prints by masters of the tradition such as Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi are also a part of the collection.
Ancient Chinese art and works of contemporary Chinese art are also represented and include a Buddhist stone sculpture from the 5th-6th century CE, as well as works of contemporary Chinese art by noted artist Zhang Xiaogang. Also within the collection is the work of contemporary Tibetan artist, Gade, acquired from the museum’s ground-breaking 2006 exhibition, Waves on the Turquoise Lake: Contemporary Expressions of Tibetan Art.
Perhaps the most widespread influence on Asian art is Buddhism. This ancient belief system and philosophy has over one billion adherents today and is practiced all over Asia in different forms. The three main branches of Buddhism include Theravada Buddhism, a conservative form mainly found in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia; Mahayana Buddhism, which spread from India to China in the 5th century and is now most common in East Asian countries like China, Korea, and Japan; and Vajrayana Buddhism, a popular tradition in Tibet and other Central Asian countries that involves tantric practice. Regardless of what branch is followed, the core beliefs of Buddhism involve concepts of karma, reincarnation, and enlightenment, which is defined as liberation from suffering.
In depictions of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas (saint-like figures), the statues often form various gestures with their hands called mudras, each of which has a specific meaning. For example, the Northern Wei Buddha (shown in the middle on the right) has his right hand palm forward facing up, forming the Abhaya mudra (a gesture of assurance), while the left hand is palm forward facing down, forming the Varada mudra (a wish-granting gesture).