I have a few other posts on the back burner, one of which sadly has been there for over a month. But, in the meantime, Art Radar Asia, one of the premier blogs on goings on in the world of contemporary Asian art, reports today on an exhibition of contemporary Tibetan art at the Rubin Museum, the first such show in New York City ever.
I won’t go through the works one by one (not least of all because I feel awkward pulling too many images from a single source like that without permission)… I invite you to go look at the post on Art Radar Asia’s own page, consider the images, and read the comments by New York Times art critic Ken Johnson.
I’m certainly familiar with the name, though I have never really managed to keep track of which critics I do and don’t like, or which critics tend to say what sort of things. Reading his comments on these works, in which he basically criticizes all of them for not going far enough, I think that perhaps the main thing it comes down to is the amount of experience or exposure of the viewer. Ken Johnson has seen a lot of art in his day, and so it takes more to surprise, shock, or impress him. And that’s not his fault; one can only write from one’s own experience, one’s own impressions.
Johnson sums up by stating that it is paradoxical that the “freedoms granted by modern art and culture” do not generate much imagination in the show’s artists, who still cling onto that classic Tibetan style of art that has existed “hundreds of years prior to the 20th century.” He conveys a hope that in future Rubin shows he will discover some Tibetan artists with “adventurous minds.”
But I, and most other people viewing these works I should think, have not seen quite so much art, and are more easily impressed. I have a particular fondness for works which draw upon traditional elements, traditional motifs and styles, relating back to the artist’s culture and speaking to complex meanings and themes from her culture. Anyone can make acultural, pan-national, abstract “modern” art like, say, Mondrian or Damien Hirst. Only a Tibetan can produce these kinds of works, that explicitly refer to complex Buddhist meanings and themes, utilizing in some cases traditional mineral pigments and other traditional media, methods, and styles.
I think that, to the contrary of what Johnson has to say, these works show incredible imagination, and that all of these artists demonstrate that they have very adventurous minds. These works are not the classic Tibetan style of art that has existed for hundreds of years. What we saw in the Bhutanese art exhibit (“The Dragon’s Gift“) – that is a classic Bhutanese (extremely similar to Tibetan) style of art that has existed, more or less unchanged, for hundreds of years. Take a look at the Rubin Museum’s Collections webpage. Those are traditional mandalas in the fully classic style. Now look again at the works on the Art Radar Asia blog page. These are very modern, very experimental, imaginative, and adventurous new works making reference to or making use of those classic motifs, themes, and methods.
The exhibition at the Rubin Museum is up until October 18. I will have to be sure to see it while I am in NY in October.