Arts Desk

Yoga Exhibit Comes to Sackler Gallery This Fall, and It’s Got a Crowdfunding Campaign

K Street lobbyists in $80 Lululemon power flow pants probably don't care about the spiritual and cultural history of yoga, but at least the Smithsonian does: This fall, a new exhibit at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will shed some light on yoga's iterations over the last 2,000 years.

"The Art of Transformation" runs Oct. 19 to Jan. 26 2014 at the Asian art gallery. In a press release, the Smithsonian says the exhibit—the "world's first exhibition about the discipline's visual history"—will explore "yoga's philosophies and its goals of transforming body and consciousness, its importance within multiple religious and secular arenas, and the varied roles that yogis played in society." The show will include more than 130 objects from 25 private collections and museums throughout the United States, Europe, and India.

Allison Peck, a spokesperson for the Freer and Sackler galleries, says "The Art of Transformation" is in no way a bald-faced appeal to millennials hopping on the yoga bandwagon. "The Art of Transformation," says Peck, has been a labor of love for its curators "for many years now." Don't expect to see any foam yoga mats or Lycra knickers in the show: Peck says the show is "historically focused [and] stops right after the turn of the 20th century." The majority of the items on view will be from the eighth to 18th centuries, with the most recent item dated around 1940. This exhibit represents "a whole new realm of scholarship," Peck says. "No one so far has looked at the history of yoga through its artwork or how it's represented visually."

What may cause some to criticize this exhibit is its associated crowdfunding campaign. Museum crowdfunding is still a controversial proposition for the primary reason that, as the San Francisco Arts Quarterly wrote last year, "The public perception of institutions like the Hirschhorn [sic] Museum is that they are swimming like Scrooge McDuck in money." Federal dollars cover a significant portion of the Smithsonian's costs (a mixed blessing in times of massive federal budget cuts), but private donations go a long way toward growing collections and assembling new exhibitions.

For "The Art of Transformation," the Smithsonian plans to launch a campaign on Razoo.com called "Together We're One." It's being referred to as the Smithsonian's "first major crowdfunding campaign," but it's not actually the institution's first attempt to crowdsource funds—the Hirshhorn's embarrassingly unsuccessful Ai Weiwei campaign comes to mind. The key word here, however, is "major," says Peck. The Smithsonian aims to raise $125,000 to support the exhibition's production, free programming, web materials, and catalog printing. The Hirshhorn's Weiwei campaign had a goal of $35,000. "We're just going for it this time," says Peck. "If there's a topic to do it about, I think this is it." The campaign kicks off on May 29.

The Smithsonian is ramping up its social media and digital components for "The Art of Transformation," too. Peck says the museum is rolling out associated background images for iPads, Twitter, Facebook, and desktop computers—in addition to grandparent-friendly e-cards. The gallery has set up an email account for the show—yoga@si.edu—for people who want to help spread the word and volunteer their time to the exhibit. (Peck says response from the public has already been enthusiastic.) Oh, and yes, there's a hashtag: #artofyoga.

Image: Satcakranirupanicitra, Swami Hamsvarupa, 1903

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