Ancient Art in a Modern City: An Exhibition of Contemporary Tibetan Art in Manhattan
So I have been meaning to write about the Kyigudo earthquake but I am going to have to do that another time. Because I don’t have the time or energy tonight to write coherently about something so awful and important and I don’t want to reduce it or diminish it, not that anything can of course, by putting up a crap post about it.
So instead this post is about a small exhibition that was launched in Manhattan on Tuesday, April 20. The exhibition, called Ancient Art in a Modern City: An Exhibition of Contemporary Tibetan Art, is exhibited at the International Center in New York on 23rd Street near 5th Avenue as part of New York Immigrant Week. The artists displayed are Rabkar Wangchuk, Tenzin Phakmo, Sodhon, Thupten N Chakrishar, Jamyang Dorjee Chakrishar, Selhatso, Lobsang Choephel, Chungpo Tsering and Tenzin Menzin.
The opening on Tuesday featured a discussion with some of the artists whose works were displayed. A friend was going and so I dragged my feet and went along because sometimes you feel guilty about passing up “culture” and also there might be food. The discussion had just begun when we entered the room and there were two empty seats up front which we took. This was a mistake, as it quickly became clear when Sodhon la, one of the featured artists, said he would like an interpreter and Thupten Nyima’s eyes scanned the audience and homed in on me. I didn’t mind, actually, as long as I didn’t have to translate iffy words like “illusion” or “beauty”. If this meant I now had to pay attention to what the speakers were saying, so much the better.
Sodhon la, Rabkar Wangchuk and Thupten Nyima spoke about their work. Tenzin Rigdol, a talented and successful artist who helped curate this show (although perhaps this show was not curated so much as …er… heaped together) later joined the conversation. It was actually very interesting and very cool, listening to these contemporary artists talk about their paintings, their background and the influences that shape their work.
It seems to me that, both for the artist and the audience, contemporary Tibetan art is defined not so much by what it is as by what it is not - it is not traditional thangka painting; it is not religious art. So paradoxically this means that thangka art has enormous influence over contemporary Tibetan artists. Whether they are informed and inspired by thangka painting or they are stifled and challenged by it, thangka art’s influence on contemporary Tibetan artists manifests clearly either on the artist’s canvas (such as Rabkar’s Passion or Sodhon’s Frivolity of Life) or in the artist’s conversation (such as Tenzin Rigdol’s remarks).
As far as the exhibits were concerned, Chungpo’s Untitled, the mani khorlo and the bell, is a serene and peaceful painting and Thupten Nyima’s digital art West Side Highway, with the deities cruising in the sky in an open convertible, is striking.
My favorites were Selhatso’s Behind the Shoeba Mask (pictured to the left) and Tenzin Phakmo’s My Land? #3.