Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rubin Museum of Art: 17th St and 7th Ave

If you are interested in Himalayan art, there is no place better than the Rubin Museum of Art.  The lobby floor has a great little restaurant and a high end gift shop.  The five floors above have permanent and temporary exhibits that provide a fulsome look at a variety of aspects of Himalayan art, which spans the areas of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan as well as adjacent areas of India, China, and Mongolia.

The second floor provides a great introduction, with descriptions of buddhas (see left), tantric deities (see right), bodhisattvas, and wrathful deities.  It provides a good foundation for identifying and being able to understand the fantastic collection displayed throughout the museum. 

On the third floor, there is a collection of masterworks.  One alcove has a complete shrine.  Another has a reproduction of murals of a temple wall with audio guides that detail the stories told in the murals.  And of course, there are dramatic art pieces, masks, and sculptures.

On the fourth floor there is an amazing collection amassed by the grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt, Quentin Roosevelt, of the Naxi (pronounced nashee) people of southwestern China.  There are samplings of prayer books written in the only living pictographic language (see left), Quentin's travel documents and wooden trunk, as well as an altar and beautiful funeral scrolls in the Dongba tradition (which is a mix of, among other things, Bon, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Mongolian shamanism).  Much of the Naxi culture was lost after China's Revolution in 1949, so this collection preserves the history and culture of this remote region and people.

The fifth (and last floor currently open to the public, as the top floor is closed in preparation for the next exhibit opening on July 1) floor had a beautiful collection of rugs--horse rugs, sitting rugs, sleeping rugs, and prayer rugs.  On display were hand dyed, hand-tied, rugs of all shapes, sizes and quality.  I thought the horse rugs were particularly decorative but I was particularly intrigued by the swastika rugs (see right) and learning that prior to their use in Nazi Germany was a symbol of well-being and good luck.

Every Friday evening the museum admission is waived (Rubin Museum Info), and visiting the museum is a lovely way to spend an hour or so before dinner.

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