The Rubin Museum is relatively new to the New York City landscape. But since its 2004 opening, it has become one of the finest cultural institutions in the city. Based on the private collection of Donald and Shelley Rubin, the museum is focused on the art and culture of Himalayas, particularly Tibet and Nepal. While popular for enthusiast of Buddist and Hindu art, the museum presents the region to novices, introducing visitors to the many traditions of this unique and historic region of the world.
What You Will See
The museum has six floors connected by a remarkable spiral staircase. The second and third floors are dedicated to the permanent collection, made up of statues, paintings, tools, and pottery from the various religious traditions of the Himalayas. Start your visit at the
Why You Should Go
Most encyclopedic museums have a department dedicated to Asian Art, with Buddist and Hindu statues and imagery. While the Rubin's collection may not be the largest, it is present with the most expertise and passion, dedicated more to introducing and educating visitors about the region than just the collection and curation of beautiful artifacts. Watch the calendar not only for changing exhibitions, but also for film series, lectures, and other fascinating events.
The range of the Rubin's mission is on full display with Measure Your Existence. After wandering through galleries filled with millennia-old masterpieces, journey to the top floor and participate in some of the most interesting contemporary installations of the year. Six contemporary artists contributed works to this show, built around the theme of impermanence. Take a piece of candy off the floor. Write a deceased loved-one a letter. Watch a man punch a clock once an hour for a year. Plan on coming back again to see the works as they change through interaction.
Shahidul Alam, a photojournalist and activist from Bangladesh, has captured profound images around the world for over 40 years. After the outcry over his 2018 arrest for criticizing the Bangladeshi government, Alam was selected as one of Time Magazines 2018 Persons of the Year. This exhibit is the first retrospective of Alam's career in the United States. Alam's depictions of the social struggles common in South Asia are powerful and inspiring.
In many ways, this is the most important exhibition in the museum. Himalayan Art is unique and beautiful but draws on history, legends, traditions, and methods often unfamiliar to Western viewers. This exhibition walks you through the basics: the difference between Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the meaning of the different postures and hand gestures, the common compositions of paintings. Time invested here pays off in the rest of the museum and through the city's other major collections of Himalayan Art.
This season the Rubin presents the work of three artists lining the way to the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room. This rotating series invites contemporary artists to contribute work harmonious with the Shrine room. Tehran-born Shiva Ahmadi contributed videos referencing the plight of refugees. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge invites visitors to shake his hand (actually a bronze cast of his own arm), reminding them that "wisdom can only be passed by the touching of hands." Nepalese artist Tsherin Sherpa built a striking memorial to the loss suffered in Nepal in the 2015 earthquake.
The museum's smallest exhibit tells a fascinating story of discovery and legend. The exhibit features relics recovered during an 1898 archaeological excavation in Piprahwa, India. Piprahwa is a possible burial place of the Buddha's ashes and the relics contained in the stupa that was unearthed are believed by some to have been charged with blessings by their proximity to the life of the Buddha. Marvel at the ancient gems and dig deep into the story of their discovery.
This semi-permanent exhibition is the highlight of the Rubin. The Shrine room is a detailed representation of a private shrine in the household of devoted practitioners. Filled with elaborate scroll paintings, traditional objects, ritualistic instruments, and (simulated) candles, the installation invites users to experience the serenity of a place dedicated to personal mediation and quiet contemplation.