Once Upon Many Times

    September 16, 2011 - January 30, 2012

    Shantarakshita and Scenes of His Life in Tibet Tibet; 19th century; Pigments on cloth; 35 x 24 in.;
    Rubin Museum of Art, C2007.22.1 (HAR 65798)

    The Himalayan region is home to strong narrative traditions-evidence of which is found in a great number of Himalayan works of art. Once Upon Many Times will present the variety of forms that tell stories of the Buddha, great teachers, legendary masters, spiritual quests, and adventures of heroes painted in thangkas, murals, and told in front of portable shrines.

    Historically, illustrative and performed narratives were of particular importance in the Himalayas. In Tibetan areas, for example, teaching storytellers would travel from place to place using scroll paintings and portable sculptures from their traveling shrines to relate much-beloved stories.

    Many favorite tales from regularly-performed Tibetan dramas would also often be represented in visual narratives. Of particular note in the exhibition are reproductions of three Lukhang Temple wall murals that provide exceptional examples of illustrations inspired by Tibetan dramas and legends.

    This exhibition was funded, in part, by The Achelis Foundation

    Curated by Elena Pakhoutova


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    Once Upon Many Times: Related Talks and Performances

    The Vimalakirti Sutra: Robert Thurman and Peter Sellars

    Wednesday, September 28 at 7 p.m.
    The scholar and the stage director debate the "Theater of the Inconceivable" in the first narrative sutra in the Buddhist canon. Learn More

    The Vimalakirti Sutra: Work-in-progress with Peter Sellars

    Friday, September 30 & Saturday, October 1 at 7 p.m.

    An exploration of the earliest narrative sutra in the Buddhist canon by stage director Peter Sellars, actress Kate Valk, and dancer Michael Schumacher. Learn More

    The Dream-Over

    Saturday, October 22 at 8 p.m.

    The very popular museum adult sleep-over returns to the Rubin on October 22!  If you missed out on this very special event the last time, here is your opportunity to participate. Learn More   

    From Urdu Epic and Tibetan Sorcerers to Today

    Wednesday, October 26 at 7 p.m.

    Fantasy in Tibetan and world literature with scholars and writers John Crowley (Yale Professor of Utopian Fiction, and author of Little, Big) and Hamid Dabashi (the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York) and novelist Paul Witcover (Waking Beauty, Tumbling After, and Dracula: Asylum.) Learn More

    Lunch Matters

    Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

    Short documentary films followed by active discussion sessions. The series currently includes: Lama Mani, two film son the King Gesar epic, and Chaksampa: The Yogi Who Built Iron Bridges. Learn More


    Once Upon Many Times: Tours and Education Programs

    Exhibition Tour: Once Upon Many Times

    September 23 – October 27, 2011
    Daily at 4 p.m.

    Join a museum guide for an in-depth tour of Once Upon Many Times. Tours last approximately thirty minutes. Exhibition tours are free with museum admission and do not require reservations. Learn More

    Fee: Free with museum admission

    Once Upon Many Times American Sign Language Tour

    Friday, November 18 at 7 p.m.

    American Sign Language (ASL) tours of Once Upon Many Times will be offered on several Friday evenings, in conjunction with the museum's K2 Friday Night experience. ASL tour participants are invited to gather in the K2 Lounge at 6 pm, then join the tour at 7 pm. ASL tours are specifically designed for visitors who are deaf and hard of hearing, affording them a chance to learn about the cultures, history, religions, and sacred art of the Himalayan region. Voice interpretation will not be provided. Learn More

    Fee: Free

    Members Only Exhibition Tour

    Wednesday, November 9 at 6 p.m.

    Curator Elena Pakhoutova presents highlights from the exhibition. Learn More

    Fee: Free | Reservations not required

    For Teens: Mixed Mythology Teen Art Lab

    October 17 – December 19, 2011
    Mondays, 4–6:30 p.m.

    Every work of art at the Rubin Museum has a story to tell. Come hear tales fit for the gods and play out your own epic scenes to make powerful art. Teen Art Labs offer an opportunity to discuss art critically, think creatively, and work with professional artists. *Registration required. Learn More


    Exhibition Resources

    Audio Tour

    Download the exhibition audio tour from iTunesU

    Exhibition Brochure Online

    Explore select narratives in detail with curator Elena Pakhoutova, in this online version of our exhibition brochure. Launch Interactive

    Download the exhibition brochure

    Installation Photographs

    Click here to see the installation of Once Upon Many Times.

    Explore a Historical Narrative

    Historical Narratives in Himalayan paintings are often presented by depicting multiple episodes from a figure's life. Explore episodes concerning Shantarakshita in this interactive.

    Download Historical Narrative Interactive (5 MB) 

    Explore a Teaching Narrative

    Many Buddhist stories are morality tales that teach about Buddhist notions. The painting in this interactive illustrates three different teaching stories.

    Download Teaching Narrative Interactive

    Take a Closer Look Booklets

    These booklets help to identify a few narratives depicted in selected works from the exhibition. Feel free to download them for reflection at home, or print them out and bring them with you to the museum.


    Buddha's Noble Deeds
    Fifth Dalai Lama
    Life of Buddha Shakyamuni