Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Sacred Arts of Bhutan 1: The Dragon's Gift
A huge new exhibit opened last Friday at the Asian Art Museum called "The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan," and it's a wonder.
At a press preview last Wednesday, the new Director of the Museum, Jay Xu, told us he had rushed back to San Francisco from a dinner at the British Museum in London where he was sitting next to the Rosetta Stone.
"There was no way I was going to miss this."
The exhibit is the first time any of these artworks have been seen outside of the small Himalayan kingdom and in most cases the scrolls and statues are still in ritual use at Buddhist monasteries rather than being loaned from museums.
The Bhutanese cultural minister gave a short speech, beaming with pleasure and pride when he noted that Bhutan is "the world's newest democracy," which occurred in March of 2008 when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck peacefully transferred power to parliamentary rule and abdicated his throne to his 28-year-old son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
He was also wearing a pair of the coolest boots in the world.
The exhibit was put together by the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Department of Culture of the Royal Government of Bhutan...
...with the assistance of guest curator Teresa Tse Bartholomew (above) who is the "curator emeritus of Himalayan art at the Asian Art Museum."
She explains, "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."
As an example, the gilt bronze Buddha above is loaned from Dongkarla Kunzang Choling, a temple perched on a mountain that's over 14,000 feet which can only be reached via a "strenuous seven-hour hike."