The Rubin Gateway to Himalayan Art
July 23, 2010 - January 6, 2016
Gateway to Himalayan Art and The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room
Gateway to Himalayan Art acquaints visitors with the principal concepts of Himalayan art and its cultural contexts. A large multimedia map orients visitors to the geographic scope and diversity of the Himalayan region and adjacent cultural areas that comprise the greater Himalayan cultural sphere, including parts of India, China, and Mongolia. From there, visitors are invited to explore four main sections: Figures and Symbols, Materials and Techniques, Purpose and Function, and Tibetan Art in Context, which includes the Rubin Museum's Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room.
The exhibition as a whole provides visitors with tools for contextualizing and understanding the rich artistic traditions presented throughout the Museum. Large format graphic panels in the exhibition explain symbols and gestures used in Himalayan Hindu and Buddhist works of art. A three-dimensional installation presents in detail Nepalese lost wax technique in its six stages. Methods of thangka painting with ground mineral pigments and iconometry (guidelines for proportions) are explained with grid drawings alongside an actual painting of the same subject. In addition to paintings and sculpture, objects such as a stupa, prayer wheel, and ritual implements demonstrate that the accumulation of merit, the secular concerns of long life, wealth, and spiritual gains are sought by patrons, and hoped to be fulfilled through ritual use of these objects.
A Looking Guide, filled with tips for easy recognition of the Buddhist figures and symbols in this and other exhibitions throughout the Museum, is available as a take-home brochure.
Curated by Karl Debreczeny and Elena Pakhoutova
Image Credit: Shakyamuni Buddha with Sixteen Arhats Tibet; 15th century Pigments on cloth Rubin Museum of Art C2003.50.7 (HAR 1052)
Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room
A new Shrine Room, comprising nearly 130 objects, replaced the exhibition that has been on loan from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, since 2010 with objects largely from the Rubin Museum’s own collection, complemented by a few select loans. The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, part of Gateway to Himalayan Art, is one of the most visited and popular galleries at the Rubin Museum. Recreating the aesthetics and spirituality of a traditional Tibetan shrine room, it offers viewers the opportunity to experience Tibetan religious art in its cultural context.
Scroll paintings (thangka), sculptures of buddhas, bodhisattvas and tantric, female, and wrathful deities and portraits of teachers are arranged on traditional Tibetan furniture and according to the hierarchy they assume in Tibetan Buddhist practices. Such practices involve the use of ritual objects such as butter lamps, offering bowls, vajras and bells, hand-held drums, prayer beads, conch trumpets, and horns and reeds, which are also on view. Ornamental textile decorations of brocade silk, made by traditional masters of appliqué craft and hung on the ceiling and pillars are included in the Rubin Museum’s presentation. The room, as with the previous installation, is complete with simulated flickering butter lamps and tables with low cushions normally present during religious practices.
The design of the Shrine Room accommodates these various objects while incorporating elements of traditional Tibetan architecture and color schemes used in Tibetan homes. Special wooden cabinets, often intricately carved and painted and called cho sham in Tibetan, are usually built to fit the space of a shrine room’s main wall. The Rubin Museum commissioned a group of Tibetan carpenters to create one such cabinet for the central part of the Shrine Room installation. The installation will be accompanied by an interactive touch screen that will feature paintings, sculptures, and ritual items lent to the Museum as well as many of the Museum’s own newly acquired and permanent collection objects.
The Museum will rotate its display every two years to present the four Tibetan religious traditions. The first installation reflects the Ancient Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist tradition as embraced by its later proponents. Among the main subjects found in the paintings and sculpture are Padmasambhava, the Lotus Born Teacher, Avalokiteshvara, the long-life deities such as Amitabha, Ushnishavijaya, and White Tara, and the Lion-faced Dakini, Simghamukha. Future installments of the Shrine Room will feature specific traditions such as Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug.
Curated by Elena Pakhoutova
The Museum has created a high-definition virtual rendering of the Shrine Room. There are three different viewing locations, which enable the visitor to inspect the objects in close detail. Choosing a Highlighted Object will reveal additional description and views of that object. Experience the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room like never before.
Audio Tours & Verbal Description Resources
This Looking Guide is designed to help visitors recognize common symbols and important figures that can be seen in the art throughout the museum. Download now
Behind the Scenes Blog
Take a look at how the Rubin Museum staff worked to create the museum's new introductory exhibition. Go to Blog
Explore the principal concepts of Himalayan art, including important deities and symbols, the materials and techniques used in creating works of art, and the purposes and functions of these works in their sacred and secular contexts through online interactives. Our online interactive collection continues to grow as the Gateway to Himalayan Art exhibition evolves.