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Lions Roar : November 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2008 76 who practices and teaches about a num- ber of female Buddhas, including Tara, says, “I’m not surprised it was White Tara who got his attention.” Chuckling, he adds, “Tara knows what she’s doing!” ON OCTOBER 2, 2004, that long love affair sparked by Tara came to fruition in a big way when the world’s premiere museum of Himalayan art—the Rubin Museum of Art, on West 17th Street in the fashionable Chelsea neighborhood of New York City—opened to the public. In a stunning example of architectural recycling, the new museum was housed in a former high-end clothing store, its beautiful steel-and-marble spiral stair- case soaring upward from the lobby with galleries arranged, mandala-like, around it. The day of the opening, the street in front was packed with Himalayan mu- sicians and dancers, politicians, high lamas, monks, and museum supporters. There was a parade of Himalayan dogs, and student artists made sidewalk art, intended, in the spirit of impermanence, to disappear with time. “Art liberates my soul,” says Donald Rubin. “It feeds me; it is intense. The energy from it takes over my life.” The Rubins believe art should be emotional and engaging, something people get in- volved with. In typical fashion, then, the Rubin Museum of Art (RMA) asked one hundred contemporary artists to design for the opening their own versions of traditional Tibetan prayer flags, called dar cho in Tibetan. These flags, which have been a part of Himalayan culture for thousands of years, are said to spread good fortune to all beings—the flutter- ing motion of the cloth sets auspicious forces in motion and silences harmful ones. The flags were just one of many ele- ments featured on that opening week- end. But in its effort to engage a wide variety of people, to make meaningful connections between Eastern and West- ern cultures, and in its sheer sense of fun and creativity, “Written on the Wind: The Flag Project” (which eventually ap- peared as a full-scale indoor exhibition in 2007-2008) exemplified the museum’s innovative approach to its art and pub- lic programs. When RMA opened its huge glass doors for the first time, strings of the colorful silk flags were pulled up from the street and fastened to the roof of the gracious, six-story building. The multicolored medley flapped softly in the warm autumn air, dispensing blessings to hundreds of cheering well-wishers. Today, the 70,000-square-foot mu- seum houses about 3,000 works in its permanent collection, almost double the original 1,700, most of which were donated by Shelley and Donald Rubin from their personal collection. The mu- seum draws from all the cultures that touch the 1,800-mile arc of mountains that stretches from Afghanistan to Bur- ma, including the Tibet Autonomous Region, Nepal, Mongolia, and Bhutan. The larger Himalayan cultural sphere, based on thousands of years of cultural exchanges, also includes Iran, India, China, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. At the same time, the museum has de- veloped a reputation as a hotbed of in- novative, contemporary programming, attracting talent like director Martin Scorsese, actor/playwrights Sam Shep- herd and Wally Shawn, and musicians Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, and Moby. RMA’s permanent collection includes many prized pieces, among them: “Du- rga,” a stunning 11” x 13” x 71⁄4” gilt copper-alloy statue, Nepalese, thirteenth century, and “Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyal- po, Tibetan Teacher,” a Tibetan thangka from the thirteenth century made of mineral pigments on cloth. In its short Above: Amitabha Buddha, Central Tibet, nineteenth century Below: Donald and Shelley Rubin ELISABETH COLEMAN is a journalist based in New York City. She is currently writing a memoir about growing up in rural New York State. (ITEMNO.85)COLLECTIONOFTHERUBINMUSEUMOFART(ACC.#F1997.6.3)PHOTOBYMICHAELTOOLANPHOTOBYSHELLEYKUSNETZ NOV 74-83.indd 76 NOV 74-83.indd 76 9/1/08 12:23:51 PM 9/1/08 12:23:51 PM