Ancient Indian paintings bring legends to life at San Diego Museum of Art



The latest exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art is a feast for the eyes and imagination. “Epic Tales from Ancient India” features more than 90 works from the museum’s renowned Binney Collection, along with detailed descriptions of each one.

Walking through this elegant showing of small but stunning pieces is like taking a trip into the heart of India without leaving Balboa Park .

Edwin Binney, third grandson of the inventor of Crayola crayons, was a dedicated SDMA trustee who began collecting Indian and South Asian art in 1958. Upon his death in 1986, he left the museum more than 1,400 paintings and manuscripts, dating from the 12th through the 19th century. It is one of the most impressive collections of South Asian art in the world.

The pre-opening reception June 7 was a real delight, with Indian music and dancers transforming the museum’s rotunda into the kind of palace courtyard where paintings like those on view were originally displayed. The performance by two members of the Los Angeles-based Navarasa Dance Theater was particularly entrancing, an unusual mix of classical Indian dance forms, martial arts, storytelling and aerial dance.

You can see Navarasa Dance Theater, Sept. 1, as part of the program of special events accompanying the exhibition, which runs through Sept. 3. There’s lots more to see at SDMA, too, including the gilded, Asian-inspired paintings of New York City-based artist Nancy Lorenz (which lead the way to the Indian paintings) and the lovely galleries of Asian and Persian art, on the west side of the rotunda.

With all this going on, now is the perfect time for a visit, and perfect weather for lunch or a drink at Panama 66, the outdoor restaurant adjoining the museum’s Sculpture Garden.

IF YOU GO: San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego; is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Wednesdays. Admission: $8-$15. Free third Thursdays to San Diego residents. (619) 232-7931.

RELATED EVENTS: 6 p.m. June 21 Sculpture and Cocktails; 10:30 a.m. June 23 curator’s tour and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Indian miniature workshop; 5 p.m. July 27 On the Steps at SDMA: Telling Epic Tales; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 18 Traditional Indian Puppet Making; 1 p.m. Sept. 1, Indian Dance Showcase.