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."


namastenancy said...

What a great review. You put me to shame. I'm just going to post a link to this from my blog and try to learn, as always, how to do these things better.

sfmike said...

Dear Nancy: Don't put yourself down. I've been practicing on these little fototales for quite a while, and your praise is really welcome. Thanks.

Pura Vida said...

How exciting to see rare works of art and spirit from Bhutan! Your photos are fantastic. Some are familiar figures from the Buddhist tradition and some new faces. In a Bhutanese temple, I recognized on the altar a statue of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche who had passed away in 1991. I was stunned to realize these were not necessarily archetypal Buddha images. You are also showing us some true realized individuals cast in bronze and gold. Thank you.
Peace & Love

sfmike said...

Dear Pura Vida: You've been to Bhutan? Now I'm getting seriously envious.

whabbear said...

Michael: What a great drag name for a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence: Rosetta Stone! LOL!

sfmike said...

Dear whabbear: No, the drag name is all yours since you managed to pick out perfection in the obvious. "Presenting Miss Rosetta Stone!" And then you could go all Yma Sumac.

namastenancy said...

I just read K. Baker's review in the Chron. Yours is much better; heck, even mine is better written. Viva the citizen journalist/ blogger!

sfmike said...

Dear Nancy: Poor Mr. Baker can't seem to climb out of "artspeak" to save his life.

Bradly Jones said...

Great posts on this blog. I'm on my way to Dhaka and will be needing all the information i can get because I will be staying shortly in Bhutan, I need to be able to gather knowledge as well as pictures, I adore Buddhism as well. Thanks for sharing. Your article was a real brain massage.

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