Museums: The Rubin

Woodblock Print of the Buddha and His Assembly
China; 18th-19th century, Ink on paper C2010.16

It's been years since I last had a chance to visit the Rubin.  This visit parts of the spiraling floors were closed for installation, but there was still plenty to see.  Most importantly, I discovered some interesting things about the intersection between Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism.  Above is a wood block printing from China, which you can determine due to very fine lines, the parasol over the Buddha, and clouds in the shape of a ruyi, one of those mushroom-shaped magic wands.

Mandala of Chandra
Nepal; ca. 1500, Pigments on cloth, C2010.23

I also found a piece that honors my summer tour at the Asian last year- a Nepalese mandala of Chandra, the moon.  Seven white geese pull his chariot, surrounded by the eight planets and several constellations.  Apparently the varying background colors are particularly Nepalese, but the geese are a highlight.

Snake Goddess Manasa
Northeastern India; ca. 12th century, Phyllite, 2005.36.2

Like the exhibit of the Cyrus Cylinder at the Met, the Rubin is focused on cross-cultural interactions.  One of the more interesting things I saw was a gallery featuring Indian Hindu art as a precursor to Tibetan Buddhist imagery (“precursor” seems like a nifty way to get around the problem of “influence”).  This snake goddess Manasa, new to me, is from Bengal.  Her composition is quite similar to later Tibetan figures of Tara.

Tibet; 19th century, Pigments on cloth, C2006.66.530

Towards the top of the spiral was a nifty exhibit about the “flip side” of Tibetan art.  On the back of most tanghkas, or Tibetan paintings, are the standard consecration and mantras.  But there are also a couple surprises.  This rather stunning Padmasambhava above, when flipped, reveals that an entirely different image was originally planned below.

I was also surprised to find a lot of “Tibetan flashcards,” or tsakli.  It makes sense; with the multitude of Buddhas and bodhisattvas to keep track of, not to mention the extensive and complicated imagery practitioners needed to keep straight for visualization, visual aids were needed.  Sets of cards of related deities were created, often with extensive explanations on the back.  Here’s one of the 21 Taras, Duhkadahana.

Tara Burning Suffering
Central Tibet (Taklung School); ca. 1270, Pigments on paper, McCormick Collection

And I finally managed to get my India fix.  The Brooklyn Museum’s Asian exhibit is undergoing renovation, so in the meantime they’re featuring their early Indian collection at the top of the Rubin.  There’s Rajasthani Hindu sandstone sculpture, lots of Gandharan Buddhist art, and a really stunning (and quite large) Nataraja below.  It was also gratifying to be able to look across the gallery and think “That looks like a Dali Avalokiteshvara” and “Definitely a Khmer piece” and be right.

Shiva Nataraja
Brooklyn Museum, India; 18th century, Bronze, 27.959, Babbott Collection