NEW YORK—As you pull open the glass doors to the admissions counter, you are greeted by a cloud wall designed by Milton Glaser. Made of copper, the wall depicts stylized clouds found in Tibetan paintings. With admission tickets in hand, we walked down two steps into a space of contrasting styles.
To the left are mahogany floors and pillars that make up the café and shop area. To the right, a marble spiral staircase, an imposing sight, leads up from a gallery. As we took each step and looked up, it was as if we were walking toward a moment of enlightenment.
This marble-and-steel structure is very much a part of the lore that surrounds the Rubin Museum of Art. Just as each of the pieces on display have a story to tell, so does this staircase. According to a story told by guide Tashi Chodron, Rubin Museum founder Donald Rubin decided that this former Barney’s located at 150 W. 17th St. would be the home of the institution because the staircase reminded him of a Himalayan mandala.
A mandala, according to Himalayanart.org, is a circular diagram, architectural, highly technical, and precise, representing the entire idealized universe of a deity, entourage, palace, and surroundings—the container and contained, animate and inanimate.
I just cannot believe these pieces are as old as they are because I doubt I would be able to add such intricate details without the technologically advanced tools at my disposal.
—Lisa, an Interdisciplinary Sculpture student at Maryland Institute College of Art
The Rubin Museum of Art is home to the largest collection of Himalayan art in the West. The Rubin is in many ways the culmination of Donald and Shelley Rubin’s love of Himalayan art, a permanent home for the collection they put together over many years.
While each floor of this six-floor museum tells a unique story, the fifth floor was the focus of this particular visit. The floor’s current exhibit, Casting the Divine, is a testament to skill, passion, and perseverance.
Casting the Divine is made up of the Nyingjei Lam Collection, on long-term loan to the Rubin Museum and on display until July 13. The collection consists of 108 sculptures, 104 of which are displayed as part of the exhibit. Whether you take the stairs or the elevator, you will be mesmerized the moment you reach the exhibit.
Lisa, an Interdisciplinary Sculpture student at Maryland Institute College of Art commented, “I just cannot believe these pieces are as old as they are because I doubt I would be able to add such intricate details without the technologically advanced tools at my disposal.”
The pieces, made of materials such as metal, stone, and bone, reflect within their details the time it took to complete each.The lighting deftly highlights each individual piece without taking away from others. Each piece of this exhibit is like a fine wine, to be taken in slowly and from multiple perspectives—examining the fine lines, gold inlays, and variety of expressions exhibited throughout the sculptures.
Casting the Divine is not merely an exhibition; it is also the stories of the artists who created these sculptures.
Gaurav Bawa is a candidate for a masters degree in public administration at Bernard Baruch College. Don Waisanen is a professor of communication at Bernard Baruch College, City University of New York.