How did Buddha become such a ubiquitous element in Southern California homes, regardless of ones faith? The figure has become visual shorthand for Zen décor and soothing interior design serenity sold off the shelf. Religious leaders are glad non-Buddhists have embraced the figure, but some followers also wonder whether Buddhamania has gone too far, reducing a sacred symbol to a decorating tchotchke.
Interior designer Susan Cohen incorporates several Buddhas in her Santa Monica home, including a cast-resin piece in her backyard. The statue is part of a landscape that includes bamboo, Japanese elms and other Asian elements. After going to Bali I was inspired to bring back that calming energy, she says. Though not a Buddhist, she says the history and spirituality behind the objects give her a sense of inner peace.
Cohen refers to this piece, given to her as a gift, as her roving Buddha because she places it in different spots in the house. In the kitchen windowsill, I usually like to surround it with orchids, she says, and I love the way light shines through it.
The demand for Buddha-related pieces has spread far and wide, from mass-market retailers to the art market. The Beverly Hills auction house I.M. Chait sold this 15th century, 10-inch-tall gilt bronze piece for $72,000. The bodhisattva, which in some forms of Buddhism is a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana to save others, is rendered atop a lotus base, with a lotus flower on each shoulder.
This 22-inch-tall glazed stucco Buddha head from China, dating to the 10th or 11th century, will be part of a June 29 auction at I.M. Chait, which is estimating the piece at $6,000 to $8,000. Half-closed eyes signify a meditative state: looking outward and inward at the same time. People now want art that improves their life and has significance, says owner Izzy Chait, adding that he has seen prices for Buddha statues jump fivefold in the last three years.
In March, Christies sold a sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai, the Supreme Buddha or Great Sun Buddha, for about $14.4 million, setting a world auction record for traditional Japanese art. The wooden piece is about 26 inches tall and dates to the 12th century. The interior of the body holds a wood placard with a pagoda-shaped finial, a crystal ball on a bronze lotus stand and a crystal pagoda.
A 15th century painting on silk depicting the Lohan Chudapanthaka, a Buddhist monk, sold for about $1.6 million in Sotherbys The Arts of the Buddha sale in September. It was the auction houses third such sale since 2004.