Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, calls stepping inside "the hallowed space of the magnificent Tibetan shrine room ... an immersive encounter."
The installation marks "a new direction," Diamond says, aimed at engaging people's emotions. Mr. Raby agrees, predicting that entering the shrine will "override the authority of the rational mind" and "activate emotional understanding."
A pronounced effect of sensation overload is unmistakable. Intense red and gold colors and teeming imagery saturate the eyes, almost rendering a viewer snow-blind. While most blockbuster exhibitions feature 200 works spread over multiple galleries, this shrine crams 250 brightly colored paintings, glittery statues, and ritual objects into one dimly lit, 14-by-20-foot room. Liturgical music floats through the air, heightening the emotional clout. The intention is to duplicate an actual shrine in a Tibetan temple or an affluent family's house.
Kandell's curator is Philip Rudko, an art conservator and Russian Orthodox monk who began the collection 40 years ago and merged his pieces with hers in 1994. He says that seeing the profusion of religious works as presented in their original context should give the impression of "an overwhelming totality" into which the individual pieces meld.
The vivid cinnabar, gold, and blue hues, Mr. Rudko adds, "inspire the individual to be in tune with the environment and make a person feel good." In the arid Himalayas, these brilliant mineral pigments must have created a sizable jolt, seducing the eye and directing the mind to contemplation.