Feb 28, 2009

Buddhist Art Exhibition in San Francisco

A rare opportunity to view the Buddhist arts of the mystical kingdom of Bhutan – “The Last Shangri-La”.
At the Asian Art Museum through May 10th.

Located in the Himalayas to the east of Mount Everest and Nepal, Bhutan is unique as a sovereign nation that has maintained its culture, arts, and religious and political traditions intact. Bhutan is one of the few countries in Asia that was never colonized by its neighbors or Western powers. The exhibition provides an exceptionally rare opportunity to view some of the most sacred and beloved Buddhist arts of Bhutan. Many of the objects remain in ritual use in temples and monasteries and have never before been accessible to a Western audience. In an unprecedented effort, the exhibition also documents ritual Buddhist dance forms through video footage that will be shown on monitors situated in the galleries. The exhibition comprises more than 100 works of art dating from the eighth to the twentieth centuries, including thangkas (paintings on cloth), gilt bronze sculptures, and ritual objects. Bhutanese monks will remain in residence at the Asian Art Museum for the duration of the exhibition, performing daily ritual observances for the sacred artworks.

“The recent coronation of Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, Bhutan’s first democratic king, introduced many to this remote Himalayan nation steeped in tradition,” says Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. “The Asian Art Museum is pleased to bring to San Francisco the remarkable exhibition under royal patronage The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan, which provides an unprecedented view of Bhutan’s spiritual and artistic traditions that are so inextricably woven into its culture. The unprecedented access granted to the organizers and the resulting exhibition are a gift from Bhutan to the world.”

The Dragon’s Gift offers a rare opportunity to introduce some of the most sacred Buddhist images of Bhutan to the wider international audience. From the wealth of material surveyed, the organizers of the exhibition have selected over one hundred objects of superior aesthetic achievement and deep religious significance, the vast majority of which have never before been seen in the West. Nearly all of the works of art presented in this book are from active temples and monasteries and remain in ritual use. Most of the items are either painted or textile thangkas, or gilt bronze sculptures, which date primarily from the 17th to 19th centuries–a golden age in the Buddhist arts of Bhutan.

“In the eyes of the Bhutanese, these objects are not ‘art’ in the conventional sense, but are sacred images, supporting Buddhist practices,” says Terese Tse Bartholomew, curator emeritus of Himalayan art at the Asian Art Museum and guest curator of The Dragon’s Gift. “The daily veneration of the objects by the monks who will remain in residence at the Asian Art Museum throughout the exhibition testifies to their spiritual significance. Even in the temples in Bhutan, these sacred works are rarely seen. Perhaps one object at a time might be brought out for ritual use. I cannot stress enough what a remarkable opportunity it is for Western audiences to see these works. The phrase ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ is overused, but in this case it most certainly applies.”

See the rest of the article at The Dragon’s Gift Tour: Now in San Francisco

The catalog of the exhibition The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan you can buy here: