A good exhibition conveys visual and written information in unique ways that compel the viewer to open mind and heart.
I like pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box. I’ve discovered that museum and gallery exhibitions can have a perfect symbiosis with illustrated books and films. All three have been essential to my career. A good exhibition conveys visual and written information in unique ways that compel the viewer to open mind and heart.
After my first and second trips to India, I organized small shows of South Asian folk arts and crafts I had collected, interspersed with my printed photographs. Two widely featured Festivals of India, in Britain in 1982 and the United States in 1985-86, provided me with unique opportunities to collaborate on professional museum exhibitions. My learning curve was steep and rapid. I began creating and proposing my own traveling exhibitions of printed photographs coordinated with my books Painted Prayers and Gifts of Earth. Both had broad exposure in fine institutions throughout the United States, Britain, and India.
In the early ’90s, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art (The Freer and Sackler Gallery) invited me to curate a major exhibition about Hinduism. Although the museum intended that Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion would be open for just six months, its immense popularity caused them to extend its run for four whole years with 750,000 recorded viewers! As that show could not travel, I created a second exhibition on the same subject entitled Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion — with a fully illustrated book published by Yale University Press (1999.) The success of that show in Houston and New York City (The American Museum of Natural History), and its intended trajectory to travel to many other museums, came to a halt with the attacks of 9/11 and the consequent suspicion of Asian cultures the shock of invasion caused. Nevertheless, a second version of Meeting God traveled subsequently in Britain.
Exhibition conception, design, and curating were now in my blood. In the first decade of the new millennium, I created four important exhibitions. India Unfolding: The Photography of Stephen Huyler, a photographic retrospective in 2003 at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, allowed me to experiment with many new exhibition techniques. Daughters of India: Art and Identity (images tied to my book of profiles of Indian women) traveled to many museums in 2008-10. India Adorned: Selections of the Stephen P Huyler Collection opened in 2008 at Mingei International Museum, accompanied by a film about my work in India: Eye For India. Sonabai: Another Way of Seeing ran for 13 months at Mingei International Museum in San Diego, beginning in the summer of 2009. With the help and advice of many other talented individuals, I spent five years conceiving and designing this show that featured a remarkable self-taught artist from central India. Coordinated with a fully illustrated book and a professional documentary film, this exhibition was an enormous success and was, in my opinion, the pinnacle of my long career. It has enjoyed two other smaller incarnations in subsequent years.
Finally, in 2016, I worked closely with Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, Susan Tai, and others to curate Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. I also contributed heavily to a catalog of the same title published by the University of California Press.
The following are links to highlights of some of the exhibitions mentioned above: