Most New Yorkers know the address 17th St and Seventh Avenue as the venue of the former Barney's, once the city's most famous men's store. But its present occupant is the Rubin Museum of Art. Barely a year old New York's newest museum housing Asian art, primarily from the Himalaya, spent over $ 60 million reincarnating this space.
Arriving visitors are invited to impress their hand or footprints in a sandbox set up at the museum's entrance to promote one of its current exhibitions, 'Handprints and Footprints in Buddhist Art'. The impressions are then recorded on a digital camera with one's name and entered in the museum's website, by date. An album in the same gallery displays thangkas with handprints and footprints of Karmapas, and one can find an eclectic display of handprints from other cultural references, including Hollywood.
Last week the Rubin was screening 'Shortcut to Nirvana', a documentary on the Kumbh Mela, and also featured a dance performance of the Drepung monks from a Tibetan opera. The museum has the mandatory gift shop, which even sells Himalayan red salt. Available in Asan for about Rs 10 a package, it sells here for $ 7.50. For $ 14 we bought a non-toxic, vinyl Lotus Bud made in China by Bodhi Toys for dharmic dogs to chew on.
Exhibitions also include 'Female Buddhas: Women of Enlightenment in Himalayan Art', displaying depictions of goddesses such as Tara in her different manifestations.
Another showcases photos by Kathmandu's own Matthieu Ricard, the French-born author-monk residing at Boudhanath's Shechen monastery and who, it turns out, is an accomplished lensman.
'Matthieu Ricard: The Compassionate Eye' is a welcome change from all the museum's serious iconography. Here was an eclectic mix of landscapes (mostly Tibetan but with some Nepali images as well) and human figures-from monks leaping in the air at beholding the sea to an elaborately coiffed and bejewelled young girl from Kham, where Ricard spends much of his time, and the Shechen Clinic in Boudhnath, which he oversees.
There is also a remarkable portrait of the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and another of the current reincarnation, a small boy nuzzled by the Dalai Lama.
Ricard is the well-known author and photographer of Journey to Enlightenment and Monk Dancers of Tibet, as well as The Quantum and the Lotus, about science and Buddhism. He collaborated with Olivier and Danielle Follmi on Buddhist Himalayas, and was cinematographer and writer of the video, Spirit of Tibet. After the Rubin, he hopes to bring the exhibition of his pictures to Kathmandu.