November 02, 2006

Tibetan Art Installation

Posted by: Rebecca Durkin

The tidy galleries that you see as a visitor fail to give you a sense of how messy things can get while we’re installing. Right now our exhibition team is finishing up the installation of our two exhibits opening on Nov. 4: Vanished Kingdoms: The Wulsin Photographs of Tibet, China, and Mongolia 1921-1925 and Sacred Portraits from Tibet. The walls are painted, the framed prints are hanging up (for the most part), and we’re working on getting the labels up as well.

The Tibetan Buddhist thangkas (aka portraits) that make up the Sacred Portraits exhibit (seen in this picture) aren’t yet covered by glass. Those metal cylinders surrounding the wall panels will be the mounts for the glass. I have to admit, as much as I recognize the need to keep these fragile, old (and exquisite!) creations behind glass for protection, seeing them up close as they hang freely is pretty exciting.

There is one thangka in particular that just takes my breath away – it’s one of the largest ones there, and it has some wonderful details including rampaging elephants (note: there are no elephants in Tibet – must be an Indian influence, a neat fact I learned from the Burke collections team). But the coolest part is that the back of the thangka has been marked with the handprints of the lama who created it. Our brilliant exhibition folks figured out that this two dimensional object should be seen from the front and back to truly get the most out of it, so they built a wall with a window cut out that allows you to get a glimpse of the back of the flat wall panel. How neat is that?

The photographs in Vanished Kingdoms really surprised me. I can hardly believe that these are photographs -– they look amazingly like paintings. I think this effect comes from the fact that the lantern slides from which the images are taken were hand-tinted, and the colors sometimes feel watery and slightly off. It gives these photographs an interpretive feel, like they are an idea of what was there, rather than a documentation of what was there.

I’m looking forward to this weekend – we’ll have Dhawa Ngoche, a local thangka artist, on hand to talk about the commissioned work he created for the Sacred Portraits exhibit. The Tibetan butter tea service is also on my list of highlights for the opening event.

Event details are here.

- Rebecca