Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is probably Japan's most popular Buddhist deity. In many Japanese temples, representations of Kannon are the focus of worship. When Buddhism spread across Japan in the 7th century, Kannon quickly became popular, and as a result he is the subject of some of the oldest and most beautiful works of Buddhist art. The Museum Rietberg presented an exceptional selection of the most beautiful sculptures and paintings from the 7th to the 14th century, some of which were never seen outside Japan before or which are rarely accessible even to the Japanese public.

Complementing the exhibition there was a display of a group of photographs by the contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, which took sculptures of Kannon Bosatsu as their subject.

This exhibition organized by the Asia Society in New York was the first major exhibition to explore one of China's most influential yet little known dynasties.

Around 1000 AD, the greatest power in East Asia was the Liao empire. Established at the beginning of the tenth century by a confederation of nomads from the Eurasian steppes, the Liao empire expanded rapidly. At its height, it comprised the greater part of Manchuria, eastern Mongolia and north China. But despite its power and influence, the Liao empire crumbled almost as quickly as it arose, falling in 1125 to another wave of nomads.

The exhibition presented spectacular artefacts from the most important archaeological discoveries. The centrepiece of the show was the complete funerary outfit of the Princess of Chen, grand-daughter of the Liao Emperor Jing Zong (r. 969–982).

In ancient Peru, clothes were rather like today's business cards: the choice of colours and designs, the ways in which garments were made, and the fineness of the cloth all gave information about the geographical origins, cultural identity and social class of the wearer. Thus textiles played an important role in social and diplomatic relations. The sovereign would reward aristocrats for loyal and praiseworthy behaviour by bestowing on them the very finest fabrics. But the gods too enjoyed gifts of beautiful garments, in the form of sacrificial offerings.

The textiles displayed in this exhibition came from all regions of Peru and originated from the time between the first millennium B.C. and the seventeenth century A.D. They can be attributed to variety of cultures which through the millennia flourished in the highlands of the Andes as well as in the oasis valleys of coastal areas. Thanks to the dry climate in the desert areas of the Peruvian coast they were not only very well preserved, but have retained their original brightness to this day.

For the first time in Germany and Switzerland, a major exhibition was dedicated to the art of the Khmer, the ancient kingdoms of Cambodia. The Khmer culture is world-famous for its magnificent temples (Angkor Wat being the most renowned) and for the monumentality and artistic sensitivity of its sculptural art.

The exhibition comprised 140 masterpieces of Khmer art. Of central importance were the large stone sculptures from the Hindu and Buddhist temples of the ancient kingdoms of Cambodia. The visitors were able to discover exquisite bronzes as well as wooden figures and ceramics. The loans came mostly from museums in Cambodia, the main lender being the National Museum of Phnom Penh. A number of outstanding loans came from the Musée Guimet in Paris which owns the most important Khmer collection outside Cambodia.

In the fertile, hilly landscape of northwest Cameroon, the grassland region, numerous kingdoms were to form over the course of centuries. The sculptors at such royal courts achieved something exceptional in the area of figurative art: in addition to statues and masks they created a wealth of architectural reliefs, palace pillars and door frames decorated with figures, enormous drums, bowls, tobacco pipes, jewellery and other such symbols of royalty. Counting among some of their most impressive works are the magnificent thrones which, in the African art of the time as well as that of today, occupy a unique position. These works of art played an important role at royal rituals and their power can still be felt today.

Over 150 artistically executed, in part monumental works fashioned in wood, ivory, clay and bronze were presented. The prestigious royal accoutrements are frequently decorated with precious glass pearls. For the most part, the exhibits stemmed from German and French museums and testified to the display of splendour at the royal courts in pre-colonial times. Historical photographs conveyed something of these splendid royal houses, rapturously described by the first European visitors in the outgoing 19th century.

The exhibition was the first large show on the traditional artistic work of the Cameroon grassland region. It was shown exclusively at the Museum Rietberg, in Zurich.

The small cabinet exhibition showed the influence of traditional art of the Cameroon grassland regions on the work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938). Inspired by visits to the ethnographic museums in Berlin and Dresden, the members of the expressionist artists' group “Brücke” turned to African and Oceanic art forms. Besides finding a new formal language, Kirchner also sought to integrate the so-called “Wild Ones” into his every-day life, as vitally linked with nature and as a unique formulation of the original.

The loans – drawings, sculptures and graphic arts by Kirchner as well as sculptures from Cameroon –came predominantly from Swiss museums and private collections as well as from German ethnological museums.

Guest curator: Lucius Grisebach, Director Neues Museum Nürnberg

The Ramayana is recognised as one of the oldest and greatest epics in world literature. This masterpiece of Sanskrit poetry forms an important basis for many Hindu religious texts. Over the centuries, the story of the divine crown prince Rama, his wife Sita and the monkey lord Hanuman, his loyal companion, became one of the most popular folk tales in the whole of Asia.

This exhibition allowed visitors to experience all the main episodes of the Ramayana through a series of dramatic multimedia installations. A selection of about one hundred paintings from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century also helped visitors to appreciate the many different genres and styles of Indian art.

The starting point was the city of Ayodhya, from where the crown prince Rama is sent into exile by his father, because of a jealous intrigue. Visitors walked through the city, pausing at a series of special stands where individual paintings were displayed and explained, and followed Rama, Sita and Lakshmana into exile. They witnessed the kidnapping of Sita by the demon king Ravana. Together with the army of monkeys visitors crossed the ocean to the island of Lanka. There, they watched the battles between the demons and the armies of the forest people as well as the freeing of Sita.

Indian artists produced magnificent paintings on paper for the Mughal emperors and the Hindu princes of Rajasthan and the mountainous region of the western Himalayas. These pictures illustrate not only religious and poetic subjects, but also depict aristocratic social gatherings, hunts, music recitals and courtly splendour. 65 paintings from the museum collection outline important art historical developments in Indian painting from 1150 to 1850.

Shiva is the driving force in the cycle of creation and decay, of life and death. Nearly all Hindu gods dance: the shepherd god Krishna, portly, elephant-headed Ganesha, the goddess Kali and the divine nymphs. But it is Shiva as the Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe in his cosmic dance.

The exhibition offered visitors a sensory experience of its exquisite objects and their fascinating significance, as images, films, tableaux and spectacles invited them to step into the world of ancient cosmologies, myth, poetry and ritual as it exists to this day in the temples of Southern India. The exhibition featureed some 100 works of art, selected from among the prized possessions of leading museums in Europe, North America and India as well as from the Museum Rietberg's own collection. At the centre of the show were Southern Indian bronzes and stone sculptures from the Chola dynasty (9th – 13th century), as well as precious paintings and wooden sculptures created in later periods.

Surimono literally means “printed things”. This simple designation is somewhat misleading, for what distinguishes surimono are the particularly lavish printing techniques and rich palette of coulors, including metallic pigments. The most marked difference between surimono and other Japanese woodcuts, however, is the way poem and image complement each other. Individual poets and poetry clubs commissioned renowned woodcut artists to create visual interpretations of their poems. This imaginative interplay of text and image resulted in works of art that encourage viewers, often in a witty or humorous way, to puzzle over meaning. It was customary to print surimono in small numbers for the New Year, and to present them to friends as greeting cards.

The Lusy Collection of surimono, including many previously unknown prints, was presented and published for the first time in a comprehensive manner in this exhibition. Marino Lusy (1880–1954), himself a graphic artist, bequeathed his valuable collection of over 300 prints to the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich; today these works are on permanent loan to the Museum Rietberg.

Luo Ping's life began with loss and sadness. His father died when Luo was just one year old, and his mother soon after. But from an early age the young orphan was recognised as a talented poet and gained admission to the exclusive artistic circles of his home town, Yangzhou. At nineteen he married - for love - the poet and painter Fang Wanyi (1732–1779). Their daughter and two sons also went on to become artists. All painted plum blossoms, the family trademark.

Five years after his marriage Luo met the man who would change his life. This was the nationally renowned poet, artist and bon viveur, Jin Nong (1687–1763). The thickset, 70-year-old master took a great liking to the talented young man, who was in turn inspired by the emotional and expressive art of his mentor. Luo also painted pictures for Jin Nong, who signed them with his own name and sold them. When, after six years of this close collaboration, Jin Nong died, Luo buried his teacher with as much reverence as if it were the funeral of his own father.

In the second half of his life Luo often visited the capital, Beijing, where he caused a sensation in the fashionable cultural scene. On to a long painting scroll which he showed to everyone, he had painted ghosts and claimed to have seen such creatures with his own eyes: “Some expose teeth like melon seeds, and have fingers large as thighs.” Luo died, highly esteemed, at the age of sixty-six. Throughout his life he saw himself as an austere Buddhist and signed his work with the name “the Monk of the Flower Temple”.

The two most important museums in China, the Palace Museum in Beijing and the Shanghai Museum, along with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York came together under the direction of the Museum Rietberg to assemble the first ever comprehensive presentation of the work of this outstanding eighteenth-century artist.

In Tulunadu, a rural coastal region in southern India which encompasses parts of the states of Karnataka and Kerala, people have been worshipping Butas, local gods, protective spirits and heroes for many centuries. In 2007 the Museum Rietberg received a gift of more than fifty Buta masks and sculptures from Heidi and Hans Kaufmann.

These Buta masks belong to the Hindu folk religion which differs from Brahmin Hinduism in its gods and practices. Particularly spectacular are the large Buta animal masks such as the mask of the buffalo demon Maisandaye, the tiger Pillichamundi or the wild boar Panjurli.

The exhibition also showed the complete “costume” of a performer: the huge, elaborate headgear, often several metres in height, attached to the performer's back, the symbols of the god such as a bell or sword, and the beautiful decorations on the head and arms. Fascinating field photos and a documentary film traced the production and use of the masks and conveyed a powerful impression of this ritual theatre tradition which has remained alive in southern India to this day.

The art of Gandhara radiates calm and solemnity. The once splendid monasteries were adorned with reliefs of artistic brilliance, rich in narrative detail: nowhere in Buddhist art have sculptures represented so many episodes from Buddha's life. Here archaeologists have discovered sculptures which are among the earliest figurative representations of the Buddha.

Today the region that was home to this formerly flourishing culture has become a focus of political conflict. In 2001 the monumental statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan – once proud witnesses of Gandharan culture – were dynamited and destroyed. But this exhibition, for which Pakistani museums loaned their treasures to the West for the first time, showed another side of this region: Gandhara's past is full of riches, tolerance and cultural diversity.

Rajasthan, “the Land of the Kings”, is India’s largest state, stretching from the mountains and forests in the south-east to the great Thar desert in the north-west on the border with Pakistan. Originally the sphere of influence of the ruling Rajputs – “Sons of the Kings“– extended over an even larger area which included parts of today’s states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

After the Muslim Mughals under the leadership of Babur (1483–1530) had finally overcome fierce resistance and conquered north-west India in the sixteenth century, the Hindu Rajput princes were forced to form alliances with the new imperial power. The princes of Rajasthan, who took the title Maharaja, “great King”, belonged to the Hindu warrior caste. At a time when Muslim influence in India was rapidly rising, they defended traditional Hindu values more strongly than before.

In some regions of Rajasthan individual paintings and singleleaf series were already being created before Mughal rule. The painters who lived in the regional capitals created these works for the princes but also for wealthy private individuals such as merchants and Brahmins.